Chris Ochieng wants to be on the field in the National Premier Soccer League championships. To get there, he and his Chattanooga Football Club teammates have to beat the RVC Football Club of Richmond, Va., tonight in the South Conference title game.
"I'm very glad that I've got this chance," Ochieng said, "because I missed the last two."
Ochieng helped CFC advance to the 2010 NPSL final four in Madison, Ala., but the Kenyan forward had to watch from the bench after suffering a broken ankle late in the season.
In 2012, Ochieng wasn't on the CFC roster. He spent his summer playing in another league, for a team in Mississippi. He was rooting for his friends on the squad, but he wasn't in uniform.
CFC (7-1-3) comes into tonight's game having won two games in a row and riding a nine-game unbeaten streak. Ochieng said CFC is playing at its best at the end of the season.
"With the league like this where you don't get a lot of practicing together [before the season starts], the first few games are kind of grinding," he said. "Now you have a chance to get used to each other, and it's unbelievable how much we've come together.
A win tonight would put CFC into the NPSL championships for the third time in the club's five seasons. CFC has advanced to the title game in both previous appearances.
"I think when we put this together five years ago, the intention was not just to have fun during the summer," general manager Sean McDaniel said. "It was, if we're going to do this, let's do it in such a way to bring national attention to Chattanooga. What better way to do that is there than in a national forum."
It has been an unconventional playoff week for CFC second-year coach Bill Elliott. He has been in Pensacola, Fla., for most of the week running his University of West Florida soccer camp and will fly to Richmond today for the game.
The South Conference semifinals and finals originally were scheduled for last weekend, leaving this week free, but the schedule was changed so all four division champions didn't have to travel to Tulsa, Okla.
Assistant coach Jimmy Weekley ran practice for most of the week while Elliott was in Florida.
"It's not an ideal situation, but it's what we're faced with," Elliott said.
CFC will be without a couple of players tonight, including forward Jose Ferraz. The club will have an unlikely addition in veteran Phil Beene, who left the team early in the season and moved to Richmond.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.