Another year, another milestone for the Chattanooga Football Club — and it's not even Valentine's Day.
CFC's 10th anniversary season opened in stunning fashion Saturday afternoon, when the National Premier Soccer League team consisting of amateur players fought FC Dallas of Major League Soccer to a 1-1 draw in a Finley Stadium friendly. A crowd of 4,873 witnessed the historic feat as CFC became the first NPSL team to tie an MLS franchise.
"They don't deserve more than we do," CFC striker Zeca Ferraz said. "We have the same dreams.
We've been playing since we were kids, and we've been dreaming of games like this. We worked as hard as we could, and our coaches put us in a good mindset.
"We did the job. We got it done."
The draw was only minutes old when CFC coach Bill Elliott and general manager Sean McDaniel were asked where it should be placed in team lore. CFC played for the 2014 NPSL championship in New Jersey's 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena and vied for the 2015 crown before an eye-popping Finley crowd of 18,227.
Last year's team opened by hosting Atlanta United FC, which was the inaugural showing for an MLS expansion team that wound up making the playoffs.
"Every year, people ask, 'What else is there?' and 'What's next?' This must be next," a smiling McDaniel said. "We've had a great result against a top-flight team in Major League Soccer, so what a great way to start. To be honest, I'm a little speechless."
Said Elliott: "It really is a David-and-Goliath kind of thing. We thought that we put together the best game plan that we could, but a result like this is certainly beyond our expectations."
Dallas took a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, when a free kick by Mauro Diaz was barely tapped by Matt Hedges for a goal past Humberto Pelaez. Nine minutes later, a header by Ferraz off a beautiful cross from Jauquin Cabello got past Jimmy Maurer and ignited the frenzied crowd.
"I saw Jauquin with the ball on the left, and he has a very good delivery," Ferraz said. "I just put myself in a good position a couple of yards away from the defender so that I knew I could get a couple of steps. I jumped up on top of him, and that was it.
"Honestly, I don't remember the ball going in. I just knew it was there and started running and celebrating."
Ferraz played last February against Atlanta United, when CFC surrendered two goals in each half in a 4-0 defeat. His goal Saturday was the first in more than three years by an NPSL team against an MLS opponent.
"I think last year's experience helped us prepare more for this game," Ferraz said. "We were there last year looking up to those guys and going, 'Wow.' When we made it 1-1, it was like, 'This is already good enough.'
"We looked good in that second half. I thought it was an even game."
FC Dallas produced 10 substitutions at halftime, leaving only Maurer in place.
Elliott drove up Thursday afternoon from his primary job as the coach of West Florida, an NCAA Division II program in Pensacola. He had just two practices with his team, spending much of Thursday's initial workout learning as many as 10 new names.
When he heads back to Pensacola on Monday, he will do so having accomplished the totally unexpected.
"It's just another thread in the fabric of the history of this club," Elliott said. "Being the inaugural match for Atlanta last year was unbelievable. Playing in a national final at Red Bull Arena was unbelievable. What we had here with the New York Cosmos was unbelievable.
"We're continuing to build our brand, and hopefully the legend keeps growing."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.