Thunder Bay Chill coach Tony Colistro still has some surprises up his sleeves.
Faced with the loss of perennial stalwarts like Brandon Swartzendruber, Gustavo Oliveira. Wilson Neto and Nolan Intermoia, players who helped turn the franchise from pretenders into national champions, Colistro had plenty of holes to fill this offseason.
He may have found a gem in Sullivan Silva, a 22-year-old Brazilian who spent the 2010 season with the Austin Aztex of the USL First Division, one rung below Major League Soccer.
On the wish list of most teams in the PDL, Silva, the cousin of former Chill player Marcos Silva, had 15 goals last season with the Capital City Football Club of the Canadian Soccer League. When Capital City decided not to rejoin the CSL, Sullivan Silva was without a home and Colistro didn’t hesitate to contact the 6-foot-1 forward.
“That just happened a couple of weeks ago,” Colistro said Saturday, watching 20 of the 30 players invited to camp start an intense two-week evaluation process at Chapples Field.
“Sullivan Silva is a player we’ve tried to get for the last few years and we were successful this year.”
No stranger to the Premier Development League, Silva spent the 2006 season with the Vermont Voltage, failing to score in a dozen appearances.
The Goiania, Brazil native is the guy Colistro is counting on to fill Swartzendruber’s shoes and replace some of the 57 goals the Colorado native scored in four seasons in Thunder Bay.
Though Swartzendruber won’t be easy to replace, Silva has the pedigree to do it, Colistro said.
“We think Sullivan Silva is going to be that player,” Colistro said.
Silva, who arrived in Thunder Bay too late to make Saturday’s morning practice, won’t be alone out there. Colistro also has high hopes for import Juan Velez.
“He’s played at a high level in Spain, where he scored a lot of goals. So we’re hoping to see that contribution from them.”
But if there are questions on offence, it’s the defence where Colistro expects the 2012 edition of the Chill to make their mark.
Anchored by veteran goalie Stephen Paterson of Thunder Bay and defenders Zetroy Robertson and Sicielio Buthelezi, the Chill are a team that might not need a lot of offence to survive.
Robertson, a Jamaican native, said there are a lot of new faces in camp, but he’s excited to take on the challenge of living up to the expectations the Chill have set for themselves, with three Final Four appearances and one PDL championship since 2008.
Robertson, who wintered in Thunder Bay, said having experience in the back end is always a good place to start building for success.
“Coach (Colistro) always says that a good defensive team is a strong team and he always tries to recruit the best defenders. This year he kept most of his strong defenders, so that will be a plus for us this season,” Robertson said.
The offence should be a little more spread out, he added.
“Last year we had Brandon, but we didn’t have enough attacking push. Brandon scored the goals, but this year hopefully we have a good set of strikers coming in who can find the back of the net just like Brandon used to. He found those goals, but he’s not here anymore so we have to work with what we have.”
Working with each other will be the key to any success the Chill experiences this summer, he added.
“It’s just that simple. If we start and we’re not a team at the start, it’s going to be hard for us as we progress during the season.”
One of the newcomers who has little time to adapt is South African Jarryd Phillips, who most recently suited up for the University of Maine-Fort Kent.
The midfielder says it’s clear there are a lot of opportunities with the Chill and said the recruits will have to work hard to fill the void left by the departing players.
He knows the expectations are high.
“Tony actually made the clear to me on the phone,” Phillips said. “He said we’re going for another championship and that’s the bottom line. You can see the seriousness of it, so it’s nothing to joke about it when you get here. Hopefully we can push for another title this year.”
Chill chatter: Intermoia has hung up his cleats, but is still with the team as an assistant … Oliveira is now a financial consultant in Oklahoma … The Chill will play a pair of friendlies next weekend against the Winnipeg Lions on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). They open the regular season at home on May 25 at home against the WSA Winnipeg.