Chattanooga Football Club announces it will be joining a professional soccer league

Chattanooga FC defenders keep the ball away from the net against the New York Cosmos on Saturday night at Finley Stadium.

The Chattanooga Football Club is ready for the leap from amateur to professional soccer.

Playing its past 11 seasons in the National Premier Soccer League, multiple club sources confirmed to the Times Free Press on Wednesday that the CFC will join the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), beginning play in spring 2020.

NISA has been provisionally sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation as a professional soccer league in the U.S.

"Over the last few years, our directors and staff have been working diligently towards this day," CFC president Sheldon Grizzle said in a news release. "We are positioned for even greater growth in the years ahead. Vibrant community engagement is leading our transition to the next level of soccer and we look forward to taking this step alongside our loyal Chattanooga supporters and new shareholders both locally, nationally, and internationally."

NISA is level three of professional soccer, which is the same tier as the Chattanooga Red Wolves SC team that plays in USL League One.

Since the Chattanooga FC debuted in 2009, the eight-time conference champions and four-time national runner-up has compiled 111 wins and lost 38 matches, with 30 draws.

The club set a National Premier Soccer League attendance record with 18,227 fans for the 2015 national final against the New York Cosmos at Finley Stadium. The CFC has averaged more than 3,000 fans per home game in its history.

After a great run in lower-league soccer, the club came through on a promise made late last year to transition to a professional club and league in 2019. The collapse of the National Premier Soccer League Founders Cup also sparked CFC's motivation to join a new league that debuts on Aug. 31.

"Becoming a fully professional organization, both on and off the field, was a top priority," Grizzle said. "Chattanooga FC will provide our city an enhanced atmosphere with stronger clubs and a better overall fan and player experience. We are and will always be committed to our fans and to our city."

Chattanooga FC showed interest in the National Independent Soccer Association when the league was founded in June 2017. Starting next spring, CFC players for the first time will have professional contracts registered through FIFA in a league that has a spring and fall season.

NISA has 13 league teams as of now, including Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Oakland Roots SC, Atlanta SC, California United Strikers FC, Los Angeles Force, Miami FC, Philadelphia Fury, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, NISA Baton Rouge, NISA Connecticut and NISA Providence.

"Chattanooga FC has long been the standard bearer for independent clubs in this country and we are excited that they are bringing that mindset and capability to NISA," said NISA Commissioner John Prutch. "We look forward to the day when a packed Finley lights it up."

The CFC will finish off play in the National Premier Soccer League Members Cup, which runs through Oct. 26. This weekend's road match at Detroit City FC will bring NISA's newest members together.

"Everyone at Chattanooga FC is excited about being accepted into NISA and joining the ranks of American professional soccer," Chattanooga FC Board Chairman Tim Kelly said. "Our interest is always doing, first and foremost, what's best for Chattanooga FC and our community, and then what we feel is in the best interest of American soccer. This step fulfills a promise to our 3,254 supporter-owners while maintaining the philosophical tenets the club has held since our founding in 2009."

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