Greeson: Soccer opportunity could be big for city

USA's Kelley O'Hara, Carli Lloyd, and Lauren Holiday, from left, react to a point scored during the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team's match against Costa Rica at Finley Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The team is playing in Chattanooga as part of its Women's World Cup victory tour.

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* Through storm, rain U.S. Women's National Soccer Team wins a 7-2 blowout * Wiedmer: Stormy weather no match for U.S. women's soccer team * Wednesday became an eventful day for Julie Foudy * Victory tour means winning for U.S. World Cup champs * Sold-out crowd set to watch World Cup champs' exhibition match tonight * Wiedmer: World Cup champs know how to inspire their fans * AstroTurf president in town to see Finley field, watch women's soccer * Road closures planned for U.S. Women's match against Costa Rica

Paul Smith, the executive director of Finley Stadium, has enjoyed a great month professionally.

"Pretty safe to say this will be a record August," he said before the U.S. Women's National Team played Costa Rica in a soccer exhibition called a friendly. (Side question: When you beat a team by a combined score of 15-2 in two matches, exactly how friendly is this so-called friendly and what in the world would happen if it were called a hostility?)

photo Jay Greeson

Smith has welcomed close to 50,000 soccer fans and supporters to Finley in the first 19 days of this month to watch the Chattanooga FC and the U.S. National Team. It's been a staggering three matches - two FC playoff games and the sell-out Wednesday night for the U.S. women - that will leave a lasting memory on our town's sporting and social scene.

From the glowing faces of little girls watching real-life heroes to the pageantry of the Chattahooligans entering by song-filled parade to watch the international collection of amateurs that is the FC, the images have been memorable.

August has been the month of soccer, something that even sounds strange in a region soaked in its singular focus on college football this time of year.

Yes, here for the last three weeks, we've been every bit about the futbol as much as the football, and that's OK. Three weeks from now, most of us will have kicked this soccer fling, but soccer is not going anywhere.

Sure, the randomness of a U.S. national team coming to Chattanooga or an amateur championship run is not anything on which Smith or anyone else could establish a sound business model.

But there are more avenues to the potential groundswell of soccer and the steadily climbing number of youths participating in the sport.

Roughly a decade ago the city of Chattanooga rolled the dice on a city-run softball facility. The Summit was born and has routinely brought in big tournaments every year. Those tournaments are high-dollar tourism events, much bigger than any NCAA-sanctioned sport that has ever come to town.

Sure the FCS football title game or the various NCAA women's tournament games played here had a much higher profile, but the national tournaments at the Summit bring hundreds of teams and thousands of people who stay for a week and leave millions of dollars in our city.

Why not do the same thing with soccer? And the sooner the better.

Capitalize on the recent excitement and fast-track this thing.

Find enough land to build at least eight full-length soccer fields as close to downtown as possible. If the old Wheland Foundry site could work, great.

Get the Chamber involved and rally the downtown businesses.

Make a pitch to Astro-Turf - the great folks who worked with Finley on its new turf and would surely be willing to listen to the idea of being a part of a youth sports movement - so that field conditions are not a concern.

The ceiling for a state-of-the-art multi-use soccer complex mathematically soars over the Summit, which has been a smash success.

Youth softball is played only by girls and generally has only one big tournament season.

Soccer is played by boys and girls and more often than not through multiple seasons. Plus, with the turf, a soccer field could easily transition to a lacrosse field with minimal effort, and that offers another sport played by both sexes through a large part of the year.

In fact, a friend of mine who has a child playing soccer at the high-end tournament level says it's very common for his family to spend at least $500 in a weekend tournament.

When those half-dozen or more tournaments per sport are in town, that means full hotels and restaurants and a new wave of customers at the growing number of tourist activities here.

He also said the main sites are in Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville and Atlanta.

And we're almost equidistant from all of them.

For area soccer fans, Finley has been a field of dreams.

But for the city, a state-of-the-art soccer facility could really deliver on the familiar line of, "If you build it, they will come."

Contact Jay Greeson at and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp.