Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Chattanooga FC – Jacksonville United FC (07-05-2011)
Having arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, in the afternoon, I decided to drive up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, a two hour drive, to see a game in the newly discovered National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), a highly organized league of amateur (or semi-professional) teams. Chattanooga FC plays in the NPSL Southeast, a division with just six teams. In fact, although founded only on 2009, they were last year’s champions.
I arrived about fifteen minutes before kick-off at the ticket office and bought a GA ticket for just $5. CFC plays at the W. Max Finley Stadium, more specifically the Gordon L. Davenport Field, which is home to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga football team. Finley Stadium Davenport Field opened in 1997 and has a capacity of 20.668; but for soccer games only the main stand is open.
Before kick-off I was walking around the stadium, admiring the variety of snacks and of CFC merchandise, both of which sold pretty well (roughly 20% of all people were wearing CFC gear). It was a nice Spring evening, in the low 80s, and not too humid. A couple of minutes before kick-off, the ‘Chattahooligans’ entered the stadium, bringing the one drum and several other instruments that would sound all night.
While I was impressed by the number of people in the stadium, I am skeptical about the official number of 1.105. My estimation was roughly 750, of which almost a third arrived late into the first half of the game. The audience was almost exclusively white, middle class, with a lot of college kids and young children running around.
The quality of the game was roughly between the USL and PDL, equivalent to really good college soccer. Overall, there were (too) many short passes, weak first touches, and, despite the AstroTurf pitch, many inaccurate passes. As so often in US lower leagues, the play on both sides was defensive, slow, and predictable.
Only after almost half an hour the first real chances were created, mostly by CFC. First a good attack was intercepted by the Jacksonville goalie and only a minute later a good deep ball was headed back and then headed on the crossbar from 5 meter. Five minutes before half time a CFC striker misses a cross.
In the 42nd minute a Jacksonville break is intercepted by the right back, who sets up a good attack, which cross is finished from 2 meter: 1-0. A couple minutes later a great effort of a Jacksonville attacker leads to a good pass that is miserably missed. And in the last minute of the first half the hosts miss a great counter opportunity because of a poor first touch. Half time score: 1-0.
After having sampled the “chiken on a stik” at a snack cart, which was quite good actually, I returned to the stand, but decided to sit a bit lower, among the crowd. What surprised me was that most people around me were talking about everything but the game. Only when really big chances for the home team occurred did they get involved.
A couple minutes into the second half a decent chance of CFC is finished too softly, while a corner in the 55th minute is missed by the Jacksonville goalie, but cleared from the goal line by a defender. Not much happens until the last ten minutes, in which mostly the hosts, but also the visitors, take some good shots at goal. However, it is only two minutes in extra time that the last goal is scored, by the left back of CFC, who goes at it alone and then shoots hard and secure from inside the box: 2-0, final score.
My first experience in the NPSL was a big success! While it is officially an amateur league, in terms of audience and play it was well above the vast majority of PDL teams I have seen so far. So, if you are in the area, do go and see a CFC game!