USL News Release
Saturday, August 9, 2008 Match Stats [+]
LAREDO, TX – The Thunder Bay Chill endured all the elements Saturday night in Laredo to cap one of the most remarkable turnarounds in league history to become the first-ever Canadian champions of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League. The visitors survived 100-degree heat, an initial deficit and a second half red card as they battled the defending champions to a 1-1 draw before capturing the title in penalties 4-1.
Two years ago, Thunder Bay only posted two wins on the season for a team-worst 2-11-3 record in nine years of play. Saturday night, it was two saves in penalties by Stephen Paterson that put the Chill down in PDL and USL history in front of 3,451 at Texas A&M International University.
You would not have expected the final result given Laredo controlled much of the possession in the match, allowing the hosts to get the initial scoring chances of the game before Thunder Bay began to find their own opportunities.
In the 12th minute Laredo nearly took the lead when Leone Cruz received the ball on the right flank with plenty of space. He drove toward goal and sent a dangerous angled cross to the far post that Raul Quinones was just short of reaching for the redirection toward goal.
Laredo standout Felix Garcia got his first good chance of the match in the 15th when a lofted ball was sent into the middle of the box. Garcia caught Scott Milroth unaware on the play and zipped by him to get a foot on the ball, but the partial connection resulted in a shot that went wide.
A minute later Thunder Bay’s Jeremy Gold drove a 10 yard shot from the right on goal that forced Ryan Cooper into his first significant play to make the stop. A long Thunder Bay free kick in the 23rd caused some more trouble for Laredo as it slipped through and forced Cooper to make a reaction save on the play.
The slow pace of the scoreless first half was immediately forgotten in the second when the stakes were raised by the opening goal, a play that began with a spectacular effort from the US U-20 international Garcia.
Only 23 seconds into the second half, the Heat stunned Thunder Bay. Garcia received the ball in the penalty arc, chested it down and rifled a shot on the volley that crashed hard off the crossbar. The ball was cleared out to the left flank where Isaac Morales would send a shot back on goal that Stephen Paterson mishandled at the near post. The ball squirted between the netminder’s legs as he kneeled on the ground, allowing Juan Ibarra to knock it home from a yard out.
The Heat celebrated their first-ever lead in three consecutive championship games, having fallen behind by two in their 2-1 loss to Michigan in 2006 and battling the Bucks in a scoreless rematch decided by penalties last year, but it would not hold as Thunder Bay showed poise and calmly kept creating opportunities against the run of possession.
In the 56th minute, a turnover by the Heat could have been trouble for Laredo, but the cross from the right flank would not find anyone in the box. A corner in the 60th minute found Milroth rising to meet it for Thunder Bay, but his header found the upper right corner of the goal frame and ricocheted out of play.
In the 62nd minute, Morales sent a curling shot from 25 yards that could have been a game-clincher, but the shot just slipped over the crossbar.
A minute later, the Chill found the equalizer courtesy of second half sub Gustavo Oliveira, a team leader who has seen limited action of late due to injury. A ball played behind the defense from Jeremy Gold on the left side of the box allowed the charging Oliveira to chip the ball just off the endline over Cooper from an acute angle that found the back of the net, stunning the hometown fans, just 10 minutes after entering the match.
For his efforts off the bench, the second-year Chill midfielder was named the Championship MVP. The PDL Assist Leader a year ago battled injury most of the season, but still managed the third most points with four goals and five assists in 409 minutes played over the course of 10 games. He scored twice in the playoff opener, a 3-1 win over Colorado, and netted a penalty in their 4-0 win over Kalamazoo while also setting up two others.
The challenge of claiming the title for Thunder Bay, however, became more difficult in the 75th minute when Milroth received a second yellow for taking down Morales as he raced up the left flank, leaving the visitors a man short for the remainder of regulation and eventual 30 minutes of overtime.
Casey Gold, however, put a strike on frame for Thunder Bay with seven minutes left, but it was an easy stop for Cooper. Oliveira then put a shot on target in the first minute of stoppage time that Cooper also stopped.
Four and a half minutes into stoppage time Quinones blasted a last-chance shot from 23 yards that forced Paterson to make a diving save to send the match to overtime.
In the 24th minute of overtime, Ibarra nearly caught Paterson cheating on a free kick in expectation of a cross by sending a shot near post that forced Paterson to scramble back for the stop.
Just as the clock passed the 30-minute mark of extra time a ball found Garcia near the top of the box, but his turnaround attempt was too high.
In the penalty kick tiebreaker, Cooper was unable to summon the heroics of a year ago when he made a critical stop in the sixth round. Instead it was Paterson making up for his earlier error with two saves. In the second round of spot kicks, Carlos Ordaz’s stutter step approach did not work as the shot, just off center, was stopped by Paterson. He then rescued the next shot, which came down the middle, with his foot as he dove to the side.
The back-to-back saves combined with goals from all three of their previous shooters left defender Nolan Intermoia with a chance to clinch the title in the fourth round, and the defender did not disappoint, sending the PDL championship north of the border for the first time in league history.
The two-year turnaround from 2-11-3 to PDL champion is one of the greatest turnarounds in league history with only two other teams having won the league title after a losing record in the PDL within the two previous seasons. The Westchester Flames won the title in 2001 after going 15-3-0 the year before and 7-9-1 two seasons prior. The Richmond Kickers won the PDL title, as well as the US Open Cup, in 1995 after having posted a 4-14 record in 1994.
Canadian teams have only won five previous championships in overall USL history. The Montreal Impact have two USL First Division titles (1994, 2004) and the Vancouver Whitecaps have one USL-1 title (2006) and two W-League championships (2004, 2006).