The Chattanooga Football Club schedule for its sixth season will look a bit different from last summer's National Premier Soccer League slate -- just as the 2012 schedule was different from the year before.
As the NPSL keeps growing and evolving, Chattanooga's opponents in the Southeast division of the South Conference have changed as well. This time the changes favor the CFC's robust fan base, general manager Sean McDaniel said.
Rivalry games will abound for CFC this season with the usual matchups against Rocket City United, the Knoxville Force and new rival Pensacola City FC. There is also the return to the division of the Georgia Revolution and Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves.
Perhaps most significantly, however, is the addition of Nashville Atlas FC to the NPSL and the Southeast division.
"Tennnessee now has FC Atlas from Nashville, the Knoxville Force and Chattanooga Football Club -- what a great Tennessee rivalry just within two hours of each other," McDaniel said Monday.
Added CFC board member Tim Kelly: "The rivalries are what sell tickets for us. So to have those, combined with the fact that it's a World Cup year, we're hoping for a really good year."
CFC will conduct an open tryout on Jan. 18 at Baylor School's soccer fields. McDaniel said the tryout has grown so large, with more than 100 participating last season, that it has outgrown Finley Stadium.
According to a recent NPSL release, 18 teams have been added for the 2013 season, pushing the league past 70 teams. About the same number were added a year ago, continuing the rapid expansion of a soccer league that had 22 teams in 2008.
All those teams mean plenty of competition for the best players, few of whom are from the Chattanooga area or play collegiately in the area. CFC would love a roster full of locals, but that's just not feasible if the club wants to compete for an NPSL title.
"The advantage CFC has is that our fans have made it that this is one of the places you want to play," McDaniel said. "Where else can you play in front of 3,000 to 4,000 people in a wonderful stadium environment? The fan environment draws the players we want."
Chattanooga FC has been one of the most successful teams in the NPSL, both on and off the field, since its 2008 debut. CFC has played for the NPSL championship twice in five seasons, and its attendance and support are as good as any team in the league.
Last season, Chattanooga lost to the RVA Football Club 1-0 in Richmond, Va., in the NPSL South Conference championship game -- essentially a quarterfinal playoff game. That hard-to-shake loss came after an overtime loss on penalty kicks to the Carolina Dynamo in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup.
CFC averaged more than 2,500 fans a game last season, a surge of about 1,000 a game from the previous season, when the club experienced its first dip. CFC's 2014 schedule is still a work in progress, McDaniel said, but the goal is for the team to play six NPSL games at Finley Stadium, as well as at least one exhibition game.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.