The Chattanooga Football Club is less than two weeks away from the start of its fifth season. The men's amateur soccer team, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League, is thinking big, both on and off the field.
Along with playing in the revamped NPSL South Conference, Chattanooga FC will be competing in the U.S. Open Cup. The team opens its season with a Southeast division game against Rocket City United on May 11 at Finley Stadium, where CFC is hoping to set attendance records this season.
There will be a quick turnaround for the club's Cup first-round game on May 14; first-round Cup matchups are expected to be announced today.
"We'll be disappointed if we don't do well this season. We'll be very disappointed," said CFC general manager Sean McDaniel. "The Open Cup, we want to do well in that. Our goal is to [win a couple of games and advance to play] an MLS squad, and I think we have the team to do it."
CFC returns most of the roster from last season's team, which played for the NPSL title. Two who stand out are Andy Stewart and Chris Ochieng.
When the 2012 season ended, Stewart, then a recent Milligan College graduate, appeared to be moving on and leaving his playing days behind. The Englishman is teaching physical education in Johnson City and, after much encouragement from CFC staff, has decided to return for a fourth CFC season.
"We weren't taking no for an answer," second-year coach Bill Elliott said with a laugh. "When he's playing well, he's one of the best players in the league."
Ochieng played with Stewart at Milligan. They also were CFC teammates during the 2010 and '11 seasons. After playing in the Premier Development League last summer, Ochieng has returned to CFC. He's coming off an NAIA All-America season for Milligan in the fall, when he scored 17 goals in 17 games.
"Chris is a fan favorite," McDaniel said, "and we're really glad to have him back."
The South Conference now consists of four divisions: Southeast, Sunshine, Mid-Atlantic and South Central. CFC is in the Southeast, along with the Knoxville Force, Rocket City United, Mississippi Storm and two newcomers: the New Orleans Jesters, who moved to the NPSL from the Premier Development League, and the Gulfcoast Texans.
The Texans are coached by former CFC player Felipe Lawall, also a former Elliott assistant coach at the University of West Florida.
The winners of each South division will meet in a four-team playoff to determine which team represents the conference in the NPSL Championships. The team with the best record will host the South playoff and the league final.
McDaniel said CFC wants badly to win the Southeast and host as many postseason games as possible. CFC also has vigorously pursued U.S. Sovver about hosting a Cup game. CFC and Finley Stadium hosted Cup qualifying matches in 2011.
"We have lobbied hard, to the point where they've almost said stop calling us," McDaniel said. "U.S. Soccer is very aware of our intention and desire to host as many matches as possible."
Elliott and most of his players will arrive this week. The team is scheduled to have its first training session Friday and will scrimmage at the Georgia Revolution on Saturday.