The Chattanooga Football Club laid out a pretty consistent manuscript during the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Conference playoffs this weekend.
Get a multi-goal lead in the first half. Add some outstanding play in goal by keeper Greg Hartley.
Luke Winter had a first-half goal and an assist Saturday night, and Chattanooga FC won the conference outright for the fourth time in six seasons with a 4-0 win over the New Orleans Jesters in front of 2,802 fans at Finley Stadium. The local club also won the conference in 2010, 2012 and 2013 and now advances to the South regional playoffs this coming weekend.
Chattanooga FC improved to 10-2-2 and is on a five-match win streak -- all at home.
"Playing at home and winning means more to us because it's in front of this great group of fans, so to do it in front of them is much more special," Hartley said. "We consider this place our fortress, and you don't beat us in our fortress."
Chattanooga FC has put in a bid to host the South regional and will find out today if it will host the two-day event. Last season it advanced to the regional final before falling 1-0 to RVA Football Club in Richmond, Va..
CFC coach Bill Elliott wasn't ready yet, immediately after Saturday's win, to think a weekend ahead.
"I'm going to give myself a little time before I think about that. Maybe a half-hour," Elliott said.
In CFC's semifinal match against Nashville, the lead was 3-0 at the midway point. Saturday evening, it was 2-0 after a header by Winter in the 13th minute and a goal by Sias Reyneke from Winter in the 26th. Hartley provided some excitement when he stopped a penalty kick by New Orleans' Reece Wilson a minute after Reyneke's goal.
CFC was forced to play a man down for the final 35 minutes of the match when Winter was given a red card for dangerous play. It didn't bother the hosts, though, who padded their lead with a line-drive shot by Leo De Smedt in the 68th minute and another goal by Luis Trude in the 80th on a nice chip shot over the keeper.
"Let's be honest. We faced a lot of adversity tonight," Elliott said. "We had the PK, a red card, rain coming down. We were at home, but those were as adverse conditions as we could have faced, and I'm proud of how the guys played. I'm really blessed to have such a talented group.
Their heads are in the right place, and they really worked hard."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.