The last time the Chattanooga Football Club was in this position, two years ago in Madison, Ala., all Russell Courtney could do was watch.
A torn ACL kept Courtney on the sideline during Chattanooga FC's 2010 appearance in the National Premier Soccer League Championships. The team beat the Madison (Wis.) 56ers in the semifinals before falling to the Sacramento Gold in the title game.
Feeling even better than he did last season when he was a year removed from the injury, Courtney will be in uniform tonight when CFC (7-1-3) takes on the Bay Area Ambassadors (9-3-1), of Oakland, in San Diego.
"It's exciting that it's in San Diego and not [Alabama]," Courtney said.
It's also exciting, defender Andrew Stewart said, because reaching the semifinals in 2012 was far more difficult a challenge than two years earlier. The Southeast Conference has more teams and a championship game, plus the quality of play is much higher.
"We've had to work really hard this year and I'm happy with where we are right now," Stewart said.
Courtney has been with CFC from the beginning four years ago and Stewart is at the end of his third season with the team. Also still on the team since 2010 are Nick Chase, Moises Drummond, Fynn Glover and Thomas Hunter. Drummond and Glover will miss the trip to San Diego due to previous commitments.
CFC hasn't had the same starting lineup in a game all season, coach Bill Elliott said, so why should the final weekend be any different. Not only is CFC playing for the NPSL title, but for veterans like Courtney and Stewart, players out of college with jobs and/or families and many demands on their time, this weekend could be the end of their CFC careers.
Or, win or lose, it could inspire them to continue playing.
"I have a sense that this may be the last year, but I usually try not to make a decision until Christmastime," Courtney said. "I don't see it as a last hurrah, but it'd be awesome to be able to win."
Stewart, from England, recently graduated from Milligan College and will soon begin a job in Johnson City, Tenn.
"I'm just going to see what happens," he said. "I enjoy it a lot and I don't want to stop, but I'm just not sure right now."
The winner of tonight's game (10 p.m.) will face the winner of the other semifinal between the 56ers and FC Sonic of Lehigh Valley, Penn., in the title game on Sunday. All of this weekend's games can be watched online at SDSPSoccermarketing.com.