Chattanooga enhanced its reputation as a soccer mecca again Friday night at Finley Stadium, as an announced crowd of 17,903 braved near-freezing temperatures to cheer the U.S. men's national team to a 1-0 victory over Jamaica.
"We were actually talking as a team inside the locker room — the fans didn't seem to sit down one time," U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman said. "Ever since we came out, they were standing up and cheering and definitely gave us a lot of energy. I thought it was a fantastic atmosphere for us."
The U.S. team rewarded the Finley faithful with its first victory in the second stint of coach Bruce Arena, who replaced the ousted Jurgen Klinsmann last November following an 0-2 start in the hexagonal qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
A Jordan Morris goal set up by a pass from Benny Feilhaber in the 59th minute enabled the Americans to avoid a second straight scoreless draw, the result of last Sunday's somewhat lethargic friendly against Serbia in San Diego.
Next up for the Americans is another qualifying match, against Honduras on March 24 in San Jose, Calif.
"This was a conclusion to a good three-and-a-half weeks of camp," Arena said. "I thought the game tonight was fast, and it was against a Jamaican team that is very athletic. The surface was a little slippery at times, and that might have impacted some ability to create a few more chances, but this was all in all a more challenging game for us to play than the game against Serbia.
"I thought it made for a good game for me to look at our players and evaluate them. I think we've played 23 players in these last two games, which was one of our goals."
The U.S. had 10 shots (three on goal), while Jamaica had four shots (none on goal).
The crowd was the third-largest in Finley's history for a soccer match. The U.S. women's national team was coming off its World Cup title when 20,535 watched a 7-2 dismantling of Costa Rica in August 2015, and that was just days after the Chattanooga FC lost the National Premier Soccer League championship match in front of 18,227.
The Serbia-United States match drew an announced crowd of 20,079 at Qualcomm Stadium, the former home of the NFL's San Diego Chargers, though the San Diego Union-Tribune listed it closer to 17,000.
"It was a great environment tonight," Arena said. "It was a terrific environment. I am really thankful for the people of Chattanooga to come out and support us under these conditions, because it was a little chilly. To have that kind of turnout is tremendous, and I would have to think that U.S. Soccer will continue to look at this venue down the road."
Said Morris: "It was rocking. There is a difference between an afternoon game and a night game, and the fans were great. It was fun."
The temperature at the start of the match was 37 degrees with a wind chill of 30. It had dipped to 34 (wind chill 27) in the final minutes.
"I've been in Los Angeles for the last eight or nine years," Arena said in reference to his coaching the L.A. Galaxy. "We don't even go out under these conditions, but it was great for soccer. The players love playing in these conditions.
"It beats 100 degrees."
Odds and ends
Forward Jozy Altidore did not play Friday night but was recognized before the match for having 100 caps (game appearances). Morris notched his second career goal for the U.S. team and his first since a 2-0 friendly win over Mexico in April 2015. Arena said Morris "has made a statement and is clearly a likely candidate for our camp in March." Luis Robles was the U.S. goalie during the first half, with David Bingham having the role in the second half. Nick Rimando, the goalie against Serbia, did not play. The United States improved to 14-2-8 all-time against Jamaica.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.