The Chattanooga Football Club men's soccer team got the 2014 season off to a good start this past Saturday with a 2-0 road win over the Georgia Revolution, but CFC will bring an entirely different level of American soccer competition to Finley Stadium this Wednesday.
CFC will make its third appearance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, and its first as a host team, against the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads of the United Soccer League Professional Division.
As three-time NPSL Southeast champion, Chattanooga FC has proven its strength as a formidable amateur team, but a match against a professional side will be a measuring stick.
"For us it's a test of how good are we, how are we doing soccer-wise," said Paul Rustand, a member of the Chattanooga FC leadership team. "We do well in our league, but we kind of want to see how we do against the rest."
The U.S. Open Cup is in its 101st year and is the longest-running knockout tournament for any sport in the United States. The tournament includes teams from the amateur ranks all the way up to Major League Soccer, and CFC coach Bill Elliott said it's a big opportunity for his team and for Chattanooga to show off its growing soccer community.
"It's an amazing opportunity to play a pro team," Elliott said. "Any time in the Open Cup an amateur team draws a pro team, it's very exciting for so many reasons -- for the players to get a chance to expose themselves to coaches, but even more amazing is the fact that Chattanooga has been chosen to host, and I think that's a reflection of the organization and the fan support and everything Chattanooga has done.
"I think that's US Soccer recognizing what CFC has been doing and that the city of Chattanooga is a great place to host a game like this. It's almost unheard of for an amateur team to be able to host a professional team."
In preparation for Wednesday's match, the club unveiled new uniforms for the 2014 season. The front of the jerseys prominently features the logo of Volkswagen, the team's title sponsor. On the back, gold sponsor Memorial Hospital is featured, and sponsors FSG Bank, Icy Hot and EPB also have logos displayed on the jerseys.
Also, Big River Brewing Company has developed a special new beer, Chattahooligan Lager, that will be sold exclusively at Chattanooga FC matches this season.
CFC general manager Sean McDaniel said hosting a U.S. Open Cup match is important as team officials work to bring better non-NPSL home matches to Finley Stadium in the future.
"I think because it's on a national stage, what it does help do for our city is allow us to bring games to Chattanooga," he said. "It allows us to go after some international teams and international matches, which then drives an economic impact [to the city]."
McDaniel announced that if CFC wins Wednesday, it will host a second-round U.S. Open Cup match on May 28 against another professional squad, the Atlanta Silverbacks fromthe North American Soccer League.
CFC officials have been working hard to draw a big crowd for Wednesday's home opener not only to help the team advance in Open Cup play but to inspire good attendance for Saturday's first home NPSL match against Nashville FC.
"We've certainly put forth the effort, and not just the leadership of CFC but the community," McDaniel said. "Certainly our hope is to generate 5,000 fans at least. We'll see what the weather does. Sometimes that can have a bearing on it.
"But if nothing else, it helps create interest for our next match on Saturday. We have found in the past that a successful first match really generates interest going into the next match and through the summer."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.