Top photo courtesy of Ray Soldano Photography.
This is weird.
It’s mid July and there is no more soccer at Finley Stadium. The Chattanooga FC’s 2017 NPSL campaign ended more than a week ago with a 2-1 loss to Inter Nashville FC in the Southeast division playoffs.
As CFC supporters, we aren’t used to this. CFC are regulars in the NPSL national playoffs, five-time Southeast Conference and three-time South Region champions. We’re spoiled, in a way, which is simultaneously wonderful and terrible.
What made the 2017 season so different? On paper, we were the strongest, deepest, most varied team in the league. We had talent at every position, with players capable of playing in multiple slots and scoring goals on goals on goals. We had pro-level guys out there giving opposing teams hell week in and week out. We had veteran leadership who had been around the NPSL block several times, and we had young, fresh guys eager to make their marks on the club.
What didn’t Chattanooga FC have? I still don’t quite have an answer.
I’ll admit that, when we dropped the first U.S. Open Cup match to the Charlotte Eagles (PDL) 0-2, my first thought was, “God, I hope this isn’t an omen for what our season is going to be like.” But that was a knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected loss, and instead I told myself, “Lots of young guys, a lot different from last season. We’ll gel and it’ll be okay. We’re CFC. We got this.”
And then we got on that tie-ing streak. Those ties were seemingly the story of our season: Great passes that barely didn’t connect, shots that missed by a couple inches, blocked penalty kicks/free kicks, really lucky saves by opposing goalkeepers, and some questionable officiating. Sometimes, ties are more frustrating than losses, especially 0-0 ties. But I’ve never played a minute of soccer in my life, so what do I know?
I do know that a well-timed, well-placed free kick can spark a crazy rush of adrenaline and get an entire stadium on its feet in a matter of seconds. We can thank Danny Reynolds for that.
That 2-1 win over Inter Nashville FC proved to be pivotal. In the two matches that followed, CFC scored 10 unanswered goals. The floodgates were open. CFC was on top of the table. This was it. NPSL glory was sure to be ours.
Memphis City FC and Inter Nashville had other plans. The following week, both clubs dumped 2-1 losses on the CFC, within days of one another. Let’s not talk too much about that Nashville match, unless it’s about Danny Whitehall’s scorpion kick.
If we’re talking about the lowest points of the season, those two matches are probably what come to mind. Both were incredibly winnable matches that didn’t go our way, for any number of reasons. But the season moves quickly, and the guys had to move from one match to the next. The Boys in Blue didn’t have very long to put those matches behind them and look ahead to the Georgia Revolution. We drew with the Revs at their place in early June; this time, on our 4th of July matchup, we wanted more.
In fact, the day before that match, I wrote that I wanted fireworks on the field and in the sky and we got them, in the form of a 7-0 rout over the Revs. Several days later, the boys finished out the regular season with a 3-0 victory over FC Carolina in Charlotte. With that victory, we earned the right to host Inter Nashville FC in the first round of the Southeast division playoffs. We all know how that went.
The good news is, we didn’t have to end our season on a painful loss and an early playoff exit. The Boys in Blue got to hoist the keg after a 9-0 victory against Asheville City SC the inaugural Blue Ridge Derby. That was a victory for the Scenic City. Now we get to proudly display the Blue Ridge Derby keg--which has been appropriately named Niner--until next year’s derby in Asheville (after which it’ll come back home).
It really wasn’t a bad season (we aren’t Birmingham, after all), but it wasn’t the season it could have been, perhaps, what it should have been. We had the talent and personnel to bring the NPSL title to the Scenic City. We had the drive. We had the heart, beneath all the rowdiness. We had the support. 2017 just wasn’t our year.
2018 will be! Chatta...