CFC becomes the first fan-owned club in the US
CFC played Real Betis from La Liga in a friendly
CFC wins its seventh NPSL Southeast Conf. title
It was the club’s last season in the NPSL
First in Fan-Ownership
The 2019 season began very early – on January 17, 2019 – with the Board of Chattanooga FC announcing that 8,000 shares of the club would be made available for supporters to buy to become true owners. The offering was the first of its kind for an American soccer club and generated excitement, not only among Chattanoogans, but for all fans of independent soccer. On June 1, 2019 when the funding round closed, 3,294 people around the world had become owners of the Chattanooga Football Club.
2019 Season Summary
Realizing that the new USL franchise, the Red Wolves, would be competing for the same audience as Chattanooga FC, the Board decided to launch an aggressive season schedule: beginning much earlier than the NPSL regular season and looking for ways to extend into the fall, after the NPSL regular season would wrap up. The club set up historic matches with international teams – Real Betis from Spain’s La Liga and both of Guatemala’s best pro teams – along with four preseason exhibition games against NPSL and UPSL teams.
In early May the club would unveil plans for the team to move into the professional ranks with the development of a nascent “NPSL Pro” league. CFC would be joined by the New York Cosmos and Miami FC (formerly of Division II’s now defunct NASL), Detroit City FC, Miami United FC and Milwaukee Torrent. The league would launch in August and run through October in a mini-season called the “Founders Cup.”
Head Coach Bill Elliott returned to the club for his eighth season, but this time he did something quite unorthodox. He asked that Peter Fuller, an NAIA Hall of Fame coach who had experience in the Philadelphia Union Academy and the New England Revolution first team, join him as Associate Head Coach for the 2019 season. The pair would go on an ambitious recruiting campaign to find best possible players they could for the longest season in CFC history.
Notable players missing from the 2019 roster were: Jonathan and Stephen Ricketts, Pierre Bocquet, Charlie Clarke, Steven Rocca and David Perez. Many exciting new players from around the globe joined the squad: Gabriel Torres (Brazil), Genki Miyachi (Japan), Alun Webb and Mason Walsh (England), Ruben Morillas (Spain), Max Wilschrey and Markus Smarzoch (Germany), to name just a few.
Chattanooga FC’s season began on a beautiful March 23rd day, hosting Comunicaciones FC from Guatemala in Finley Stadium. The historic Guatemalan club had several players that had experience national teams – countries from around Central and South America – so the competition was sure to be difficult. To make things harder, the home side had so many trialists on that they would play a different eleven in each half.
The crowd of 7,285 enjoyed an entertaining and competitive match, as both sides played aggressively. Comunicaciones would get the 2-0 win in the end, but Chattanooga FC fans would leave very encouraged about the level of play their club put on display.
CFC would pick up wins in their next three exhibitions. Markus Smarzoch would score a rocket to get the winner in a slug fest with an ad hoc Detroit City FC team. Seven different players would score in the 9-0 rout of AFC Mobile of the UPSL. Homegrown native Caleb Cole and second season forward Felipe Oliveira would get the goals in the 2-1 win over Bugeaters FC from Nebraska.
CFC would only get one regular season NPSL match in before a huge international friendly as weather postponed a game with Inter Nashville. The team had a disappointing draw with Greenville FC at home, 2-2.
The Real Betis International Friendly
La Liga’s Real Betis Balompie came to the US for a midweek friendly against DC United of the MLS and picked up a Saturday match in Chattanooga. The team that ended up traveling to the US was missing several of its stars that had helped them defeated FC Barcelona in the Camp Nou earlier in the year, but they still had enough firepower to defeat DC United 5-2. Outstanding players like Joaquin, Bartra, Lo Celso and Carvalho were on the squad that would come to the Scenic City.
On gameday, with the weather a sweltering 93º, the teams filed in to Finley Stadium and the game almost didn’t happen. The Real Betis coaching staff were extremely unhappy with the turf surface on the field and threatened not to play at all. Interim President Sheldon Grizzle was able to avert disaster by agreeing to water the field, and the Chattanooga Fire Department came to the rescue and helped to hose down the turf to the opponent’s satisfaction.
The game started brightly for Chattanooga FC, with the all-amateur side creating chances and making stops in the early minutes. Then in the tenth minute, a speedy Joao Costa broke loose and ripped a glorious shot into the net and CFC was up 1-0 over the La Liga giants!
Real Betis pressed for the goal, but was thwarted by a stalwart defense through the end of regulation. But in the third minute of added time, Sergio Leon threaded a beautiful shot to tie up the game as the teams went into the half 1-1.
In the second Real Betis began to assert themselves, really taking control of the game and pulling away 4-1 with goals in the 66th, 74th and 80th minutes. But CFC was not ready to quit just yet, winning a penalty kick for a foul in the box in the 83rd minute. Newcomer Alun Webb stepped up and sliced a shot right under the keeper to make it 4-2. Finally, in stoppage time, a free kick rocketed off the bar and bounced around to finally find Zeca’s foot, and the home side was able to pull to 4-3 for the final whistle. A wonderful result for the Chattanooga FC and an incredible memory for the players.
The team would squeeze in one more unexpected international friendly in the middle of its NPSL season, playing the other most successful professional club in Guatemala, CSD Municipal, on June 30. Gabriel Gonzalez would make the team proud by scoring and earning a 1-1 draw with the professional side.
2019 NPSL Season
After the high of performing admirably against a world class opponent, CFC had a significant “let off” as they returned to league play: suffering an embarrassing 3-2 loss at home to the Georgia Revolution. The loss snapped the team back to the reality of the task at hand – winning the NPSL Southeast Conference – and the squad rolled off seven straight wins in the conference before finally falling to Greenville FC in an away match on July 6.
But CFC’s 7W - 1T - 2L record was good enough to win the conference’s regular season and allowed the team to host the conference playoffs in Finley Stadium for a fifth time.
2019 NPSL Southeast Conference Playoffs
In the conference semifinal CFC squared off against an Inter Nashville squad that the team had drubbed 4-0 and 5-1 in the two previous matches. While the game started well – with CFC pressing often and creating opportunities – Inter Nashville held strong and kept the home side off the score sheet. And in the 44th minute the head official pulled a straight on CFC’s Mason Walsh. The team would be down to 10 men for the entire second half.
The team entered the second half on a mission: in the first minute, Gabi Torres drove down the left sideline to the endline and lofted a beautiful cross onto the head of a waiting Alun Webb, 1-0 CFC. Minute later in the 50th, Caleb Cole lofted a pass into the box that found Everson Lima and was tapped in by Zeca, 2-0. The match was finally put away in the 80th minute when Joao Costa found Cameron Woodfin who slotted a final goal for the 3-0 win.
In the other semifinal, Greenville FC – the one conference team CFC had not defeated in 2019 – fell to Asheville City SC in a 1-0 battle. It would be Asheville’s first conference championship match.
With the rain falling for a second straight match, the teams kicked off the NPSL Southeast Conference Championship and went at each other. Throughout the first 25 minutes, CFC created more chances but could not get the goals. But in the 29th minute Gabi Torres drove through the box to the left endline (again) and stuck a surprising shot that put CFC into the lead 1-0. Moments later Felipe Oliveira would find Juan Hernandez who would make it 2-0. Asheville City would half the lead in the 38th on a penalty kick, and the score would be a close 2-1 at the half.
In the second half CFC would assert total control of the game. Joao Costa would score on a Juan Hernandez assist in the 50th minute, and then Costa would assist Zeca for a goal in the 67th minute as the team would roll 4-1 to collect its seventh Conference Championship trophy in 11 seasons. The team celebrated with the 2,882 fans, singing, dancing and parading the trophy around the stadium.
2019 NPSL South Region Semifinal
The two losses and the tie in NPSL regular season play came back to haunt CFC, forcing them to travel away to Miami FC for the South Region Semifinal. The professional side had joined the NPSL after the US Soccer Federation had refused to sanction the Division II league in fall 2017. The team was formidable and their Miami FC 2 team had won the 2018 NPSL National Championship – this year’s squad had all the indicators that they were planning to repeat in 2019. It would be a difficult ask for CFC to travel so far and win on the road.
On Tuesday, July 16 – a midweek match – the teams kicked off at Barry University in sunny Miami Shores, Florida. From the start CFC looked to be a bit travel-weary, moving a tad slower than was typical, but they were still able to give the home side good competition. Defender Everson Lima had to be substituted early due to a hamstring pull, and Nathaniel Bedai would come in for him.
Chattanooga FC seemed to gain confidence and composure as the game wore on. Then, in the 40th minute, Alun Webb cracked the Miami FC defense to slot in a lovely goal. However, a very late whistle blew and the head official ran over to consult with the sideline judge. A long conversation ensued between the officials, with several Miami players joining the discussion. After several long minutes, the goal was ruled offsides and therefore would not count. A disheartened CFC team would see the half out to a 0-0 draw.
The second half would emulate the first half with a very evenly contested match. Both teams created chances but neither could convert. Miami finally broke the scoreless draw with a Victor Morillas goal in the 67th minute. A couple CFC substitutions injected new energy into the side, and the boys in blue began to create more scoring opportunities, but none would find the back of the net. On a counter attack led to a dangerous play in the CFC box, resulting in a penalty for Miami in the 80th minute. Miami put the ball into the goal to double the lead to 2-0.
Adding insult to injury, defender Jordan Dunstan would be shown a red card in the 90th minute and CFC would fall 2-0. Even though CFC fell early in the NPSL Playoffs, they would perform better than any of Miami’s next three opponents: Miami would win 4-1, and 4-1 and take the National Championship in New York, winning 3-1 on the road at the Cosmos.
This match would end up being the final NPSL game for CFC. After 10 years, 11 seasons and 14 league trophies, the club would move out the amateur ranks and into professional soccer.
2019 NPSL Members Cup
Through the course of the summer it became apparent that the proposed “NPSL Pro” league would not be able to become a reality – legal and insurance technicalities created issues that could not be resolved. Both Miami teams opted out, and so the plans for the “Founders Cup” had to change. New teams Napa Valley 1839 and Michigan Stars were added, the format adjusted, and renamed as the “NPSL Members Cup.” All teams would play home and away fixtures (10 total games) and the team with the most points would win the title.
The CFC Board was still intent on moving the club into a professional league, and so they revisited the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). It was a legaue that had been formed in 2017, but had not yet fielded a competition. Several other NPSL teams indicated their intention of joining the league as well, so on August 15, 2019, CFC announced that it would join NISA for the 2020 pro season.
Almost a month after their last NPSL match, Chattanooga FC kicked off at home against the New York Cosmos in the first match of the NPSL Members Cup competition. It was a beautiful night and the 3,347 fans on hand would be treated to an excellent match. After an exciting back-and-forth 82 minutes, the Cosmos would score an absolute cracker of a free kick to go on and steal the win 1-0.
CFC would travel to the raucous Hamtramck Stadium of Detroit City FC and would fall 2-1. Alun Webb would score but the game was marred by an apparent foul on CFC in the Detroit box that was not awarded. The club returned home to face the Michigan Stars, and while they dominated the match, they could only manage a 1-1 tie. CFC had only one point from its first three games.
The team would finally get its first win in the fall season with six goals and a shutout in the away game in Napa Valley. They would follow with a tie on the road in Milwaukee 1-1 and then with two wins – one at home 3-0 over Napa and on the road 4-1 over Michigan.
Just as CFC seemed to be finding their stride, it would be broken: a 1-0 lead on the road in New York would turn into a 3-1 loss. Then a stingy Detroit would pick up a 1-0 victory in Finley Stadium. Before the final match of the Members Cup, CFC would play home and away friendlies with NISA side Stumptown Athletic in Charlotte. Both games were draws, 2-2 and 0-0.
The final match of the 2019 season – CFC’s longest in history, 31 games, nine more games than the previous longest – would be on October 26th at home against the Milwaukee Torrent. The night was cold and rainy and miserable. It was at least the eighth home game out of the 18 home matches to be played in the rain, and only 526 brave fans would turn out for it. The home side would reward them with two Juan Hernandez goals to get the 2-0 win.
CFC would finish third out of the six teams in the Members Cup competition. This would be the club’s last match as an all-amateur team.
2019 Preseason Exhibition Matches
7W - 1T - 2L · NPSL Regular Season
2W - 0T - 1L · NPSL Playoff Matches
4W - 2T - 4L · Member’s Cup Season
0W - 1T - 2L · International Friendlies
3W - 2T - 0L · Exhibition Matches
16W - 6T - 9L · All Competitions
2019 Notable Players:
Joao Costa would win the Golden Boot of the Members Cup for his 6 goals in the competition. Costa and Oliveira would each score 11 goals in all matches. Hernandez led the way with 10 assists and Woodfin was right behind with 9 assists. Goalkeeper Phil D’Amico (with help from the stalwart defense) would allow 25 goals in 25.5 games, averaging 0.98 goals against per game.
2019 total home attendance was 50,980 in 18 matches.
Nathaniel Bedai, Caleb Cole, Joao Costa, Phil D’Amico, Jordan Dunstan, Jose “Zeca” Ferraz, Gabriel Gonzalez, Juan Hernandez, Joao Johanning, Jowayne Laidley, Abraham Lansana, Everson Lima, Genki Miyachi, Ruben Morillas, Felipe Oliveira, Juan Sanchez, Markus Smarzoch, Gabriel Torres, Daniel Valenciano, Mason Walsh, Torge Weidenroth, Alun Webb, Max Wilschrey, Cameron Woodfin, Soren Yuhaschek.
The 2019 Coaching Staff:
Head Coach: Bill Elliott; Associate Head Coach: Peter Fuller; Goalkeeper Coach: Jordan Mattheiss.
2019 CFC Related News
On November 12, the CFC Board announced that Jeremy Alumbaugh would be hired as the club’s Managing Director. He would help to guide the club into its first fully professional season. Alumbaugh had been Vice President and General Manager of Saint Louis FC of the United Soccer League for six years.
Alumbaugh also represented Saint Louis FC as the Alternative Governor on the USL Board of Governors, sitting on the USL Competition Strategy Committee and the league’s Player Development Committee as well.
Alumbaugh came with more than 19 years of experience in the club, professional, and collegiate ranks. Prior to his time with Saint Louis FC, Jeremy was Director of Coaching at St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois from 2009 to 2014, managing soccer operations for more than 60 club teams. Prior to his time in the St. Louis area, he was Director of Springfield (Mo.) Sports Club for five years.