For the first time in two months, the surroundings won't be familiar for the Chattanooga Football Club men's soccer players. They won't be able to look behind the visitors' bench at Finley Stadium and see the crazy Chattahooligans fan section cheering them on.
But when they take the field tonight, the mission will be the same as it has been every other match -- to win.
Except a victory tonight would mean more than any other in club history.
Chattanooga FC will take the pitch at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., in the National Premier Soccer League championship match against the top-ranked New York Red Bulls U-23 squad. The Red Bulls' Major League Soccer club will face the New England Revolution at 7.
There will be some familiar, friendly faces at the arena for the second-ranked Chattanooga club, though. Two fan buses are leaving at 7 a.m., and a number of other local fans have made it known that they will be attending as well.
For those unable to make the trip, there will be a viewing party at the First Tennessee Pavilion, starting tonight at 7. Fans will be able to watch the MLS match, then view the national final on a large video board as EPB has secured live television coverage rights to the match. It also will be available to EPB fiber optics TV subscribers on channels 4 and 752.
Admission and parking are free at the pavilion. Beer and non-alcoholic beverages will be served throughout the evening, and several area food trucks will serve the crowd. No outside beverages will be allowed, but attendees are encouraged to bring snacks and chairs.
"We're excited to be a part of it," said Paul Smith, executive director of Finley Stadium. "We've been able to form a great relationship with CFC this year, and because of the financial boost to Finley, we felt obligated to provide a place to watch the match."
CFC coach Bill Elliott expressed disappointment that his players couldn't be home for the final. They played in front of 8,878 in their 4-1 win over Sacramento FC in the national semifinals but are the away team because of their lower seed.
"I think it's going to be an exciting match. Playing at Red Bull Arena brings a different element, but in a way it's anticlimactic for us," Elliott said. "We've been building home crowds, and we love playing at home in front of the fans -- I have no doubt we'd have 12,000-plus if the match was played here -- but to go there is exciting and different, but there's no place like home and we'd rather be here."
The matchup pits two of the more prolific offenses in the league. On paper, CFC would appear to have the better defensive side, led by All-NPSL goalkeeper Greg Hartley and a back four who have allowed more than three goals only twice. The Chattanooga club has many offensive weapons, led by Luke Winter, another all-league member.
New York has a pair of All-NPSL players, Sean Sheridan and Victor Manosalvas. Elliott said he had a friend from Philadelphia go scout the New York team and described it as a "very technical team that passes the ball very well."
It is Chattanooga's third time in the final in the club's six-year history, with runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012.
"We know we're going to be playing a very good team, with great coaching and good players," midfielder Thibault Charmey said. "We've done well playing at home in Chattanooga, but no matter where we play we feel we have a chance to win. We all enjoy getting to go to New York because we get to be with the team for 48 hours or more, and winning a championship is all we want.
"We're going to have to play as a team and take our chances to have a shot. I came to America [from France] for moments like this. Now we need to win."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.