CFC success, Women’s National Team continue soccer’s starry rise
Nestled in a shallow valley and surrounded by a handful of bigger-name cities, Chattanooga was for years something of a secret. A change of infrastructure and heart has been essential in cleaning up the streets and transforming the newly dubbed “Scenic City” into an attractive location for both locals and tourists.
Along with the change, though, came a fairly odd and unexpected obsession: soccer—or “football” as it’s known in rest of the world.
For years, soccer struggled to earn its place as a top-tier sport in the U.S. The slower pace of play, the acceptance of games ending in a tie, and a problem with players diving to the ground to trick officials into awarding penalties were all enough to keep most people changing the channel. The leap of faith needed to embrace the cultural values of the sport seemed a little risky and, even worse, possibly un-American.
But after the men’s national team enjoyed a successful World Cup in the summer of 2014, America came down with a case of soccer fever. People took notice, and started to appreciate its differences as quirks, not faults. The slower pace was no longer seen as a put-off, but a byproduct of a stringent tactical battle between teams. Tied games no longer made for pointless viewing, but the result of an exciting point-scoring system leagues use to determine long-term winners and losers. As for the diving, well…you can’t change everything, but Americans started to get the point.
It’s easy to see then why Chattanooga chose soccer as its flagship sport. Both city and sport had earned and deserved a second chance. It’s a perfect marriage of competition and community. And the community has now officially welcomed soccer with open arms.
Over the past couple of seasons, Chattanooga F.C. has won the Southeast division several times and reached two consecutive NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) National Championships. Alas, the hometown team fell just short in a 3-2 overtime loss to New York Cosmos B this past Saturday. Even so. their success hasn’t gone unnoticed. The boys have been cheered on by crowds so unusually big for a semi-professional event that attendance figures caught the attention of former national team poster boy Landon Donovan, who praised the support over social media.
Always leading the chants are the faithful Chattahooligans. This passionate fanbase catapulted matches from midweek pastimes to must-see main events. Local businesses responded, and backed the efforts of the Chattahooligans with exclusive fan nights, live video streams for away matches, and even a handcrafted lager named in their honor.
The buzz isn’t only contained to a local scale, though. On Wednesday, Aug. 19, the U.S. Women’s National Team will make the trip to Finley Stadium to play against Costa Rica in a sold-out “international friendly.” Over 20,000 tickets were sold in just one day, which means the expected attendance will set a new record for a women’s soccer match in Tennessee.
The love between Chattanooga and soccer is mutual. As one succeeds, the other benefits. It’s a relationship that works best when both parties win together, lose together, and support each other. It’s a relationship that’s bigger than sports, as the beauty of the game continues to shed its luster on the city.
Photo courtesy Chattanooga Football Club