Chattanooga FC fell to Flower City Union on a penalty shootout after the 2023 NISA semifinal ended goalless after regulation and extra time at Finley Stadium.
The regular season champions created numerous chances throughout the evening, and struck the woodwork multiple times, but ultimately were unable to find the breakthrough that was needed.
The match was — as can be expected from knockout football — cagey and physical. There were multiple, lengthy stoppages needed for injuries to be treated throughout the game.
Flower City Union goalkeeper Michael Mejia put in an outstanding display on the evening.
Mutaya Mwape had a free-kick tipped over the bar by Mejia right before half-time. Taylor Gray subbed on for Mwape at the beginning of the second half.
The final quarter hour of the second half saw an avalanche of chances created by Chattanooga FC. Back-to-back NISA golden boot winner Markus Naglestad hit the crossbar with a thunderous free-kick in the 78th minute.
Chattanooga continued to pile on the pressure. Aydan Bowers found Naglestad superbly with a lofted cross, however the Norwegian hit the side netting from close range.
Moments later Naglestad struck the crossbar again, this time with his head, after Gray had a close-range shot saved by Mejia. Flower City Union's keeper stood up to each challenge he faced, and the game would go to extra time.
Chattanooga FC continued to create dangerous opportunities. Naglestad clipped a cross to the back post for McGrath but the midfielder from Spennymoor, England hit the crossbar with a thunderous header, and the match headed to penalty kicks.
While CFC keeper and back-to-back NISA golden glove winner Jean Antoine saved two Flower City penalties, it was not enough on the night as Mejia also made a couple of saves while the woodwork came to his rescue on a couple other attempts. Flower City made two penalties while Chattanooga FC did not convert.
Chattanooga FC Head Coach and Sporting Director Rod Underwood and captain Richard Dixon took time out to speak with the media moments after the match.
Coach Underwood: "It's been a good year. There's two seasons: there's a playoff season and there's the regular season. We all know in American sports, playoffs are different than the regular season. We didn't do enough in the playoff season to put us through, but at the end of the day, I've got nothing bad to say about our boys. We hit the crossbar two or three times, missed a couple one-on-ones, dominated the second half. What more could we do besides putting it in the back of the net?
"As for the penalties... it's a roll of the dice. We spent time on those, working on those. It wasn't like we weren't prepared."
Captain Dixon: "The game is over. That's football. That's playoff football. Unfortunately we let them stay in the game. We hit the post, I don't know how many times. We got in behind and just didn't put it away. If you ask a team like that a week ago what they were going to do, their plans coming into Finley, they'd say, 'Let's take it to pens'. They did just that. When you take the game to penalties, it's anybody's game. That's football. The game's done. If we deserved to win, we would have won the game, but obviously it didn't turn out our way today. We just need to take the 24 hours, get over it, and move on. We continue to build for the future and make sure we come back bigger, better and stronger."
The coaches and players made sure to clap the fans and shared a moment with section 109 and the Chattahooligans following the match. Underwood and Dixon both expressed what the Chattanooga FC support means to them, especially following defeat on the pitch.
"These fans are top notch," said Underwood. "I worked at Portland Timbers and Sacramento Republic. When I was at Sac Republic there was never not a sell-out. Ten thousand fans every week. But these guys are special. This club is special. This club has something that... I feel like it's one of the top clubs in American soccer."
"That's why everybody wants to play for CFC [because of the fans]," said Dixon. "It's not just, we come and play pretty football, but we have the best fans in the league, some of the best fans in the country. It's not unexpected that they were loud and cheering us on. We definitely feel the energy, which is why it's so disappointing that we couldn't pull it off for them tonight. I think the city deserves it. The club deserves it. Those fans definitely deserve it. They deserve better, and that's where the disappointment comes in. But the game is over. Back to the drawing board and we keep building for the future."
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.