The relaunch season of the Chattanooga FC Women's team saw some of the largest crowds to watch women's soccer in Chattanooga.
Excitement began to accelerate in January, when the club announced a return to the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) which is the largest women's league in the world. That same night, the club debuted the remake of the CFC crest in sky blue to give the team its own identity while staying true to the CFC brand everyone knows. Both decisions, as well as a revamped gameday experience, were heavily influenced by the all-volunteer Women's Advisory Council. This group advised the Front Office on all matters related to relaunching the team.
The team advanced to the WPSL Southeast conference semifinal where it fell to Tennessee Force FC 3-1 in Knoxville. Despite its 1-6-1 record, the team exited the summer with a sense of optimism after what Coach Randy Douglas called a “competitive” first season together.
“That was a goal that was reached in my mind – just make sure that we're competitive this first season, even if we're using primarily NAIA players against NCAA Division I players… And I think that that part and that goal was met,” Douglas said.
Chattanooga FC was without a women’s team since 2018, when CFC went undefeated and won the Southeast conference in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. The revival of the program brought excitement among the Chattanooga community.
“I think every one of the players, they embrace Chattanooga as much as the fans embrace them,” Douglas said. “So I think building, as far as the culture, we’re off to a great start getting this thing back up and running.”
Furthering the culture-building, the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute partnered with Chattanooga FC this season. The non-profit organization provided career exploration meetings for the team, featuring board members and women in leadership positions from the Chattanooga area and hosted their quarterly gathering at the June 15 match at Finley Stadium.
“We were fortunate to have the opportunity to lean into the lives of these dynamic emerging leaders," said Kim Shumpert, CEO, Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute.
"Connecting them with CWLI leaders helped our mission to be lived out in a unique way. We are proud that this program has returned to Chattanooga and we hope to be part of the success of these female leaders for years to come.”
While the excitement swelled around the return of the women’s team, Chattanooga FC players had a short time to practice together before playing their first game against Nashville Rhythm FC in May. It would be a lopsided result to the eventual national semifinalists.
“It was really hard to kind of find our chemistry because we only saw each other at practice and I think that was the biggest challenge,” goalkeeper Caroline Johnson said. “We only had a week of practice before we played Nashville, which ended up being one of the best teams in the league.”
However, this relaunch was always going to be about more than results on the field. And the Chattanooga FC faithful, The Chattahooligans, made sure the women knew that upon arriving for their first match in Nashville.
“We had probably twice as many fans as they did, and it was their home game. It was loud, it was consistent, it was very welcomed for us,” Douglas said.
“Having musical instruments and people chanting right there, it took a little bit getting used to. But I think by the time we got to the second game everybody was like, ‘Yeah, this is us. This is what we do.’”
Perhaps CFC fed off of that fan-produced energy when they got their first win of the season during the team’s home opener. Midfielders Isabel Aguilar and Demaris Gaines scored the first and second goals, as CFC defeated Huntsville's North Alabama FC 2-1 in front of a raucous (as always) home crowd that included several players and coaches from the CFC Men's team in the stands.
“It was a great feeling to get that win, especially because it was a home game. The environment is amazing,” Johnson said. “That's something I've never experienced is having that many fans and all the little kids that look up to you and want your autograph and everything. It felt really good just as a team to know that we could win a game.”
CFC rode their momentum into the following week, but fell 1-2 at home against a talented Alabama FC squad. The results didn't get easier with home losses to Tennessee Force FC and Nashville Rhythm.
The teams’ resilience was perhaps best shown in their road match at Tennessee Force FC in Knoxville. Goalkeeper Caroline Johnson saved shot after shot and the midfield attack, led by Gaines and Aguilar, consistently put pressure on the Tennessee Force defense. However a late goal from Tennessee Force, chipped in just feet from the goal line, sunk the game 0-1 for CFC in the final minutes.
While CFC exited the playoffs in the first round, the resurgence of women’s soccer in Chattanooga has and will continue to be celebrated by CFC players and fans alike.
“All along we said that having a women's team was important to the overall pursuit of our mission statement,” said former CFC CEO Jeremy Alumbaugh said.
Alumbaugh was at the helm for the return.
“I think we set a good base, a good foundation… I think it's only going to help us as we keep moving forward because word travels that in a great gameday environment with great fan support, we took care of the players. We traveled well. We fulfilled everything that we think is important.”
About Chattanooga Football Club
Chattanooga Football Club was founded in 2009 with a Men's team and established a Women's team in 2013 to begin play 2014. In its most recent season of 2018, CFC Women went undefeated in the regular season to become the WPSL’s Southeast Conference Champions. The Women's team went on hiatus for three years during a club reorganization and during the pandemic. Chattanooga Football Club became the first soccer club to offer true ownership to the fans in 2019 with 3,200+ investors from Chattanooga, all 50 states, and 31 countries.
About the Women’s Premier Soccer League
In its 24th season, the WPSL is the longest active women’s soccer league and with more than 125 clubs from coast to coast in 35 states and, serves as the largest women’s soccer league in the world. WPSL rosters feature elite collegiate, post-collegiate, international, and standout prep student-athletes. Many of the United States’ most accomplished women’s players have played in the WPSL, including household names such as Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain.