By Jed Henderson @jedhenderson6
Kennesaw, GA- Chattanooga FC advanced farther in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup than any non-MLS team in Tennessee but its run ended at the hands of champions Atlanta United FC with a 6-0 defeat on Wednesday night.
Chattanooga FC Head Coach Rod Underwood acknowledged the gravity of the task before the game, saying “We want to make sure we bring joy and excitement to the club, and to be in this environment, to have this chance, to play against one of the best clubs in America and one of the well-known clubs around the world in terms of Atlanta United, we couldn’t be happier to have that opportunity.” Indeed, the visiting Chattanooga fans were in full voice throughout the match to support and show appreciation in a lopsided matchup.
Chattanooga FC earned their berth in the third round of the Open Cup with a 3-1 win over USL Championship side Memphis 901, and went on the road last Friday to Mesa, Arizona to earn a point against NISA West Division leaders Valley United FC. Atlanta United entered the match goalless in their last two MLS matches, having most recently played out a goalless draw at home to FC Cincinnati.
Underwood unveiled the same starting eleven as five days earlier in Mesa, while Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda opted to heavily rotate his side, keeping only four starters from their weekend draw, but promising to treat CFC as “any other opponent” as “they are here for a reason.”
The game was physical from the first whistle, with both sets of players quick to challenge for the ball. Chattanooga sat in their own half of the pitch for much of the half, with Atlanta working hard to negate any counterattack, even at the expense of two yellow cards earned for hard tackles breaking up Chattanooga’s attacks.
Ultimately, the MLS side showed their class as they opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Atlanta’s Ronald Hernandez was the first to reach Gutman’s outswinging cross and cushion it into the far corner, leaving Kevin Gonzalez with nothing to do but watch the ball find the inside of the side netting to put Atlanta up 1-0.
Atlanta extended their lead in the 25th minute with another well taken goal. Striker Dom Dwyer looped a diving header over Kevin Gonzalez to breach the CFC goal once again. Dwyer found the back of the net again in the 35th minute as he was first to pounce on a loose ball outside of the box, once again looping the ball over Gonzalez in goal. Chattanooga began to offer more threat as the half came to a close but were never able to truly trouble Shuttleworth in the opposite goal.
Chattanooga’s fortunes only worsened in the second half. The team began finding more openings, but in the 52nd minute Atlanta’s Mulraney drew a foul from Travis Ward in the box to win a penalty. Marcelino Moreno was calm from the spot and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner for Atlanta’s fourth.
Underwood freshened things up in the 58th minute when Roddy Green came on for Brett Jones, but Atlanta continued their rampage with a beautiful chip in the 67th minute from Luiz Araújo. Chattanooga continued fighting, even finding the back of the net once but having the goal rescinded for a questionable foul on the keeper. Youngsters Damian Rodriguez and Alex Jaimes got a chance to impress as they came on for the last ten minutes and take on the best in the country. Atlanta’s Brooks Lennon rounded out the scoring in the 84th minute, sliding the ball just inside of the near post to bring the final score to 6-0.
After the game, Coach Underwood voiced his appreciation for the fans and the opportunities within the club. “We always say two things are the lifeblood of our club. The youth development and the fans. We saw our CFC Academy players and we heard the Chattahooligans tonight. It was great to have so much support on the road.”
Despite the result, Chattanooga had several standout performers. Captain Richard Dixon put on a stellar performance as he anchored the CFC midfield and earned Man of the Match honors. Taylor Gray had moments of brilliance and showed his talents transcend beyond just the NISA level. Kevin Gonzalez made several saves and claims to keep the score in check. And, Damian Rodriguez came on and fearlessly dribbled against MLS defenders.
In the end, Atlanta United played out a professional performance to earn their expected berth in the next round of the Open Cup.
Chattanooga FC’s unlikely story in the Cup came to an end, but not without a fight to be proud of. Captain Dixon recognized this, stating “It’s always good to play in the Open Cup. They’re one of the best teams in the country and it showed tonight. But this will make us better. Our focus now is on league play and winning a championship.” That league play returns on the 30th as Chattanooga FC hosts Rochester side Flower City Union at Fort Finley.
Tickets are available here.