Chattanooga FC overcame another important hurdle in the search for league supremacy with a 2-0 win over the defending champions Michigan Stars. First half goals from Markus Naglestad and Beto Alvarenga secured three points and solidified Chattanooga’s position as the only remaining undefeated NISA club.
Fans and players alike would have circled this date first when the season schedule was announced. It was a rematch of the 2022 semifinal. Champions reigning against champions elect. A chance for both undefeated sides to make a statement. Chattanooga had failed to score against the Stars in three home matches last season, and this was their one chance to change that in the regular season. By all accounts, it was billed to be the match of the season.
Head coach Rod Underwood made two changes from the eleven that trounced the Los Angeles Force for three goals a week before. After making a cameo sub appearance last time out, Jesus Ibarra earned his first league start for Chattanooga FC. Moldovan juggernaut Anatolie Prepelita returned to the back line.
Chattanooga opened the game in classic, possession-hungry style, trying to penetrate a disciplined Michigan defense that had only conceded three goals all season.
“First half it was our ball possession, our movement of the ball, and being patient in the final third,” coach Rod Underwood recalled after the game.
Mutaya Mwape got the crowd on their feet with some mesmerizing dribbling that floored his defender and nearly resulted in a goal in the 6th minute. Markus Naglestad had the next best scoring chance in the 32nd minute but his shot was dealt with by the keeper. It wasn’t until the 39th minute that Chattanooga found a breakthrough.
Newcomer Jesus Ibarra was dribbling across the corner of the box when a clumsy challenge took him down, earning a penalty kick for Chattanooga. Top goalscorer and designated penalty taker Markus Naglestad stepped up in his usual calm fashion, sending the keeper the wrong way with a stutter step before sliding the ball home on the right side. Chattanooga was ahead 1-0 after 39 minutes.
One wasn’t enough for the boys in blue and it was Beto Alvarenga that stepped up to score the second. Jesus Ibarra picked out Alvarenga with a cutback at the edge of the box, and Alvarenga hit a perfect first-touch finish, looping the ball into the far corner. Chattanooga was ahead 2-0 before the stroke of halftime.
Michigan began to push more men forward in the second half, putting Chattanooga under more pressure, more than Rod Underwood would have liked.
“In the second half we slowed it down a little bit too much and that let them in the game.”
The efforts of the visitors almost bore fruit in the 67th minute. After a Stars player was taken down in the box, the visitors were awarded a penalty. Jean Antoine watched the taker and picked the correct direction to dive, denying the Stars the easy goal.
“As soon as he kicked, I knew which way he was going,” Antoine recollected after the match.
The visiting Stars had a few more chances but the Chattanooga defense stood firm.
“They started forcing numbers forward, but we didn’t break," said Underwood. "We have to be honest: last year we would give up a goal there.”
After nine minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle drew a close to an important Chattanooga Football Club win. Professional and dominant, the boys in blue showed a level of skill and class that distinguishes the 2023 cohort and should give fans hope for the rest of the season.
Goalkeeper Jean Antoine earned man of the match accolades for a top performance. His penalty save, along with a physical presence that kept control of his box, preserved an impressive ninth clean sheet in twelve league games.
With humility, Antoine passed on the honors to his teammates after the game, saying “Thank you, but it was a team effort… it was a collective effort.”
With twelve games played, Chattanooga FC has reached the halfway point of the NISA season. The club remains undefeated, earning nine wins and three draws, and sitting 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Chattanooga’s record setting season continues on July 19 as the boys in blue head up to Maryland to take on the Bobcats.
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.