By Charles Cuttone
Chattanooga FC has a pretty good success rate. The four-year-old National Premier Soccer League team is making their second trip to the league’s championship round, this time with an almost completely different roster than the one from two years ago, not to mention a first-year head coach in Bill Elliott, who coaches the men’s program at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.
If the team hopes to advance past Friday’s clash with Bay Area Ambassadors (7 pm PT), they will be relying on their defense to do it.
Backstopped by goalkeeper Greg Hartley, CFC got past the Georgia Revolution in their playoff game, winning 1-0. “He was the difference maker,” said General Manager Sean McDaniel.
Hartley gets some help in the back from team ironman Andy Stewart, who played every minute of every game this year.
In the win over Georgia, Luis Trude dribbled through several defenders to score the only goal of the game in the 72nd minute. This weekend, however, goalscoring might be a problem for the team after leading scorer Luke Winter, who registered three straight hat tricks during the season, has returned to his native England.
“A great goal scorer who will be missed,” said McDaniel.
Long a hotbed of minor league baseball, with the Chattanooga Lookouts being one of baseball’s oldest and most storied franchises, McDaniel said CFC was started to bring top notch soccer to the area.
“The NPSL model, from an affordability standpoint, made sense,” he said. The team plays at city-owned Finley Stadium, and the club has been self-supporting since its first season.
“The fans have been very supportive,” McDaniel said, noting that the business community and the Lookouts have as well.
With the addition of the soccer team as a tenant, the city now longer has to dip into public funds to maintain the stadium, which is also used for football.
For the first time this year, Chatanooga FC has established a youth program of its own, something McDaniel says the club plans to support and continue to grow.