As current or former college soccer players, the members of the Chattanooga Football Club are used to riding on buses to road games. It's not glamorous, it's not always comfortable, but it's reality unless you're playing for a big-budget school that has the budget to fly.
This summer, with an expanded National Premier Soccer League South Conference and South East Division, Chattanooga FC (7-1-3) has had to become a road warrior to get to where the squad is, a win away from the club's third trip to the NPSL championships in five seasons.
The South East champions, who knocked off South Central champ Tulsa Athletics on penalty kicks last Saturday, CFC will face Richmond, Va.-based RVA Football Club (7-0-2) on Sunday at VCU's Sports Backers Stadium. According to Google Maps, CFC's trip to and from Richmond will be nearly 1,100 miles.
Of course that might seem like nothing after the club bused to and from Tulsa, Okla., last weekend -- a trip of about 1,500 miles that lasted around 12 hours each way.
"It was long, but not nearly as long as it would have been if we'd lost," CFC coach Bill Elliott said of the Tulsa trip. "We were fortunate that we had a sleeper bus, so it had beds on it and we were able to sleep a good part of the way back."
For defender Samuel Mansour, who's 6-foot-3, the sleeper bus and the increased room available makes a big difference. Mansour is from just outside Paris and recently returned to the U.S. after going home for his sister's wedding.
"The thing that made it hard was I'd just traveled back from France, so I was in a plane for a long time right before," Mansour said. "I slept as much as I could."
Guys sleep, play cards, watch DVDs -- anything to pass the time. And CFC has spent a lot of time in buses this season.
Between the U.S. Open Cup game in Greensboro, N.C., and NPSL road games in Pensacola, Fla., New Orleans, Oceans Springs, Miss., Knoxville, Huntsville, Ala., and Tulsa, CFC already has covered more than 4,500 miles on the road this season. The Richmond trip will put the total over 5,600 miles.
"It's too much, quite frankly," CFC general manager Sean McDaniel said.
The road might have been long and monotonous -- and even the short trip to Huntsville, 210 miles round trip, to play Rocket City United was made miserable because the bus' air conditioning didn't work -- but CFC has played well away from Finley Stadium.
Chattanooga FC lost to the Carolina Dynamo in the Open Cup on penalty kicks, lost 1-0 at eventual South East runner-up Gulf Coast Texans, beat New Orleans and Mississippi on back-to-back days and tied Knoxville and Rocket City before beating Tulsa.
"It hasn't been a problem," McDaniel said of playing on the road, "and this isn't necessarily unique to CFC, either. The challenge is as the league has grown, so have the distances that have to be traveled. ... Nobody likes to be on the road weekend after weekend, but that's how it has played out this season."
Should CFC beat RVC, there's a chance the NPSL's four-team championships could be held in Chattanooga. It's something McDaniel is pursuing, he said, in part to play in front of CFC's fans, which are among the best in the NPSL, and to get his team off the road for a change.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.