Chattanooga FC emerged victorious in the Tennessee River Showdown as the boys in blue recorded a 1-0 victory over One Knoxville SC. An early olympico from Alex McGrath was all that separated the two sides in a chippy affair.
It promised to be a telling preseason match as One Knoxville SC made the trip down I-75 to Chattanooga. Both teams dwell in the third tier of the US soccer pyramid, although in different leagues. This exhibition match was a chance for both clubs to prove the merit of their respective leagues as well as display the quality of their squads.
Chattanooga FC had some new faces in the starting eleven after an active offseason of recruitment. Markus Naglestad led the front line with Taylor Gray and Mutaya Mwape on the flanks. CFC stalwarts Richard Dixon and Alex McGrath started in the midfield with new signing Leonel Alvarenga. Joseph Perez and Jungwoo So lined up on either side of debutants Aydan Bowers and Anatolie Prepelita in defense. Finally, Jean Antoine deputized between the sticks to round out a fresh-looking CFC lineup.
After the game kicked off, it took less than a minute for the first card to be handed out, which was a good indicator of what was to follow. It was a very physical, chippy game, where neither side was able to get much flow without the other breaking it up.
The boys in blue did earn several corner kicks in the opening minutes, and they took advantage in the ninth minute. Alex McGrath swung a corner into a crowded box, and no one got a touch to it before it bounced and nestled into the side netting on the far side, putting Chattanooga up 1-0. “We do actually practice that,” McGrath told after the game. “Just putting the ball in the right area and we have the lads in the box doing their job and hopefully it’s on target. In training this week a couple actually went in. You don’t expect to score that way, but when it comes off it’s always nice.”
After the goal, the contest continued with physicality from both sides. Few chances presented themselves for the rest of the half, with Chattanooga’s best an audacious lob from Markus Naglestad. Knoxville generated a few good shots, but Jean Antoine was equal to them and kept the score at 1-0 up to the half.
It’s generally frowned upon to count cards at the poker table, but there were too many cards to count in the second half as the game continued in a chippy, start-stop, foul filled manner. One card that counted more than the others was a red card for Knoxville in the 53rd minute, earned by off-the-ball dissent.
Despite being up a player, Chattanooga didn’t create too many chances for the rest of the game. In fact, Knoxville pushed hard for an equalizer for much of the half. Alex McGrath explained it after the game, saying “Teams go into their shell a little bit, thinking ‘oh, we just need to protect this lead.’ Even though technically we have the advantage, it doesn't always feel that way.”
Despite all of Knoxville’s efforts, the visitors were unable to find an equalizer, and the game ended 1-0 in favor of the hometown boys in blue. The solid defense was helped in large part by man of the match Anatolie Prepelita. Prepelita put in a big shift at the back, gaining attention from his aerial prowess and physical presence. At the end of the day, he was appreciative of the support throughout the match. “To be honest I was surprised at how many fans came to a friendly game… I want to say thank you to them. What we did today was for them. I felt like there were 12 players on the field today.”
Head coach Rod Underwood acknowledged that the game was perhaps a little too physical for a preseason friendly, but also that these are the kinds of matches CFC might face at Fort Finley throughout the season. “We do know that teams are going to come and try and stop us from doing what we do, so we have to get better at what we do so they can’t stop us from what we want to do.” He was also pleased with the clean sheet despite late pressure from Knoxville. “Defensively I feel like we’re further along than we were last year. That was a big thing coming into the season.”
The regular season kicks off on April 1st for the boys in blue, but that’s not the next match at Fort Finley. On March 18th, Chattanooga FC will host MLS Next Pro side Huntsville City FC in a match open to all season ticket holders.
About Chattanooga Football Club
Chattanooga Football Club was founded in 2009. The CFC Men's team competes in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), which is in the third division of professional soccer. The CFC Women's team is a summer amateur team that competes in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL). 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.