Leo De Smedt refers to the Chattahooligans — a group of organized supporters for the Chattanooga Football Club — as the "12th man."
After the local team dispatched Nashville and New Orleans during the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Conference playoffs last weekend, it was not known whether the group would have another opportunity to support its lads at Finley Stadium. The Chattanooga FC organization had put in a bid to host the South Region playoffs, but there had been no word as to whether Chattanooga, Tulsa, Miami or Greenville, S.C., would receive that right.
The Scenic City received the bid Monday afternoon, and CFC will host the first semifinal against Miami United FC tonight at 6 at Finley Stadium. The Upward Stars FC from Greenville will face Tulsa Athletics soon after 8. The winners will meet Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday's winner advances to the national semifinals next weekend.
The semifinal matches should be good ones, as according to the latest NPSL power rankings, Tulsa is the No. 2 ranked team in the league, with Miami No. 3 and CFC No. 5.
Word of the soccer fan base in Chattanooga has spread to the other participating clubs. Paul Henson, coach of the Upward Stars -- a first-year program -- and Miami United FC coach Ferdi De Matthaeis both spoke highly of the city.
"I have heard that Chattanooga has a great facility, that the crowds are large and knowledgeable, and our players are all looking forward to the weekend," Henson said in an email. "In all Upward Sports programs we consider the complete development of the athlete at all ages -- from kindergarten through the NPSL soccer team -- being mental, athletic, spiritual and social. We call this the '360 progression.'
"The opportunity to travel to Chattanooga and play in front of such a large crowd will definitely challenge us mentally and psychologically, but we have prepared the players well and are excited to be a part of the playoffs in our inaugural year."
The advantage of the home crowd -- which has topped 3,000 three times this season -- is not lost among the CFC players and coach Bill Elliott.
"Getting a chance to play on our home field just takes things to another level," forward Sias Reyneke said. "Whoever comes here to play against us will have a hard time no matter who it is."
Said Elliott: "As a coach, I'm assembling the team and trying to get good players, but I couldn't attract players if the organization wasn't so solid.
"Who wouldn't want to play in front of these fans?"
CFC defender Chris Lavie was named the Ninth Mitre national player of the week for his work during the Southeast Conference playoffs last weekend.
CFC (10-2-2) is 9-0-1 and has outscored its opponents 35-6 since losing 5-0 to the North American Soccer League's Atlanta Silverbacks in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. Eight players have scored goals for CFC this season, led by Luke Winter with eight despite missing time with injuries. Niall McCabe and Reyneke each has six, while Luis Trude has scored five.
"Our goals just seem to come every time by different people from different places," Elliott said. "I'd imagine that preparing for us would be difficult."
That's not his problem, though. For now that belongs to De Matthaeis.
"Chattanooga FC has a reputation of a very successful franchise on the field and off the field," he said Thursday in an email. "I've been following their season and I've watched some clips on the Internet, and they looked very impressive. They seem to be very solid in all areas, and have a good mix of players, and it's going to take the 'perfect game' for us to win on Friday.
"Besides, they have a great fan base that will support them throughout the game."
Tickets will cost $10 for a one-day admission or $15 to get a two-day pass into all three matches.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.