Chattanooga FC fell short against the Michigan Stars on Saturday night. A headed goal from a corner was enough for the Stars to hold off the ten men of Chattanooga in the NISA Semifinals.
All eyes were on this matchup as a win from Albion San Diego the night before meant that the winner would host the NISA Final. Chattanooga had already squared off against Michigan four times, playing out three goalless draws and a 3-2 Chattanooga victory on the final day of the regular season.
Head coach Rod Underwood rolled out a familiar lineup for the big match. Taylor Gray, Markus Naglestad, and Brett Jones started across the attack. Alex McGrath, Richard Dixon, and Ian Cerro led the midfield. Travis Ward, Franky Martinez, Colin Stripling, and Tate Robertson filled in the back line, while Kevin Gonzalez started between the sticks.
The game was touchy from the beginning, with both sets of players eager to start strong and impose their will on the game. Michigan picked up two early yellows as they set the tone for a physical, unruly match.
Chances began to fall in Chattanooga’s favor around the 20th minute. Taylor Gray curled a shot just wide, Alex McGrath tickled the outside of the side netting, Gray had a shot saved, and Cerro hit just wide while being wiped out by the goalkeeper, all in the space of ten minutes.
The best chance of the half fell to Gray in the 42nd minute on a well worked counterattack but his low shot couldn’t slide past the keeper. Kevin Gonzalez made a fine reflex save on the other end to keep the teams level at the half, 0-0.
Rain started pouring as the second half kicked off, but tempers of the two sides were all but dampened. A highly physical battle saw little by way of open play chances, but the Stars scored a header from a corner in the 56th minute to take a 1-0 lead.
The boys in blue nearly equalized from a free kick routine in the 68th minute but the ball was cleared off the line.
The match seemed to spiral out of control as everything from studs-up tackles to cheeky time wasting to retaliatory shoving was displayed on both sides of the pitch. Yellow card after yellow card was shown, and ultimately it was Chattanooga that first saw red in the 75th minute. After a nasty challenge from a Stars player, Colin Stripling retaliated and was shown red.
Despite going down to ten men, the boys in blue pushed hard for an equalizer. The team fought hard, pushing the ball forward time after time, but never was able to find a clear-cut chance. Michigan finally saw a deserved red deep in stoppage time to bring the teams to ten men a piece, but there wasn’t enough time for Chattanooga to get on the board, and the game ended 1-0 in favor of the visitors.
The loss concluded the first season of the Rod Underwood era at Chattanooga FC.
"It's disappointing because we wanted something more," said Underwood after the game. "But for us to be in the position that we were in and how we really put it together it was a good season. Bad moment. Good season."
"You can't take the paint away from these guys."
There were many incredible moments, like the team’s win over Memphis 901, a visit to Atlanta United, Markus Naglestad’s record-breaking goal scoring, an eleven-game unbeaten run through the summer, a NISA Independent Cup triumph, and many other moments in between. Every player that pulled on the famous Chattanooga FC jersey worked hard to make the city proud, and indeed they succeeded.
It was an unfortunate result on the night, but the players can be proud of the season and the fans are already looking forward to what comes next.
About Chattanooga Football Club
Chattanooga Football Club was founded in 2009. The men's team competes in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), which is in the third division of professional soccer. 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. CFC plays all home games in Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.