Greg Hartley's pregame ritual will remain the same this weekend as it has prior to any Chattanooga Football Club home match this season.
A pregame meal the night before at Genghis Grill, Jimmy Johns for a sandwich on game day -- half of which he eats before the match and another half that he saves for afterward.
Chattanooga's Finley Stadium will be the site for the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Division playoff semifinals this evening, beginning with the second-seeded Atlanta Silverback Reserves taking on the third seed, the New Orleans Jesters, at 5. Chattanooga FC will face Nashville FC in a match beginning at about 8.
The gates will open at 4 p.m., and $10 will get fans into both matches. Or they can pay $15 and get a pass into both semifinal matches plus Saturday's championship contest.
Chattanooga already had been named as the site for the playoffs before the season began, so the biggest concern for the club was ensuring that it secured one of the four available spots in the semifinals. Now the city gets the opportunity to host the final four and claim the championship team again. CFC won its regular-season division in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and added the playoff title in 2012.
There wasn't a conference playoff in 2010 and 2013, and the CFC personnel were disappointed they never really got a chance to celebrate their titles with the fan base that has followed them to away games and been faithful during home matches.
Wins the next two days would give them that opportunity.
"It's an expectation we have for ourselves to be in the playoffs, but it was really a risk when we put forth the bid [to host]," CFC general manager Sean McDaniel said. "We wanted to be able to honor our fans by hosting the match; it was a priority because our fans are like our 12th man. Our hope is to be able to celebrate with them: They're a huge reason we're here, and we want the reward [of winning], and we want to celebrate that reward with our fans."
The club, which is hoping for attendance in the "5,000 range," is 7-0-1 in its last eight matches. CFC hasn't lost since a 5-0 defeat to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on May 28. The last four wins have come in front of the home crowd.
CFC coach Bill Elliott said the team will be fully healthy, as forward Luke Winter, midfielder John Carrier and defender Chris Lavie are all back at full strength from previous injuries.
Since the Silverback Reserves were the one team that CFC didn't play in the regular season, Elliott plans on watching portions of their match against the Jesters this evening, but otherwise the focus is squarely on Nashville, which played to a scoreless draw with CFC at Finley on May 17 and lost 2-0 to the Chattanooga club in Nashville on June 13.
"We don't get to Saturday if we don't take care of business Friday," Elliott said. "We came out with the upper hand the last time we played, but we have a lot of respect for Nashville and have to go out and take care of business against them before we look ahead to a possible championship match at home on Saturday."
Hartley, who in his three seasons has been to a national final and to a regional final, is excited about the opportunity not only to play in front of the home crowd but to lay his head on his own pillow the night prior.
"It's great for the city of Chattanooga, and the team as well," Hartley said. "We know we have a couple of the Chattahooligans that travel on away games, but with a couple of important games and the mentality of the team going into the weekend, we'd rather win at home.
"We're hoping that because of some of the World Cup appeal and due to the prestige of the game, we'll be able to attract fans that haven't been to many games."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.