Chattanooga FC wins conference title with dominance

Chattanooga FC's Joao Costa, left, delivered an assist and a goal along with captain Juan Hernandez to help win the NPSL Southeast Conference championship Saturday night. CFC defeated Asheville City SC 4-1 in front of 2,882 fans at Finley Stadium.
photo Chattanooga FC's Gabriel Torres runs to the crowd to celebrate his first-half goal Saturday night at Finley Stadium. CFC defeated Asheville City SC 4-1 for the NPSL Southeast Conference championship.

Finley Stadium continues to be home to one of the National Premier Soccer League giants.

With four goal scorers chipping in for Saturday night's 4-1 victory over Asheville City SC, the Chattanooga Football Club won its eighth Southeast Conference championship with dominance.

The return to full health for Joao Costa boosted an already stout attack as the "magic man" linked up with captain Juan Hernandez on a steal and score and dished an unselfish assist to Zeca Ferraz to pull away in the second half.

"This group is amazing," Costa said soon after running with the championship cup and celebrating with CFC fans, who accounted for more than 6,000 in attendance the past two nights. "Every single guy on the roster is a great player, and we are on a mission. This team is special, and we are going to be ready to face Miami FC next."

CFC (9-2-1) is just one of 16 NPSL teams left standing and faces another quick turnaround in playing Tuesday at Miami FC (9-1) in a region semifinal against a fellow Founders Cup team. Miami has a 48-5 goal differential.

"Man of the match" Gabriel Torres came through once again in the clutch for CFC. A night after his floating cross to Alun Webb provided the game-winning score, a laser off his left foot sank into the top right of the net to give the home team the lead for good in the 29th minute.

"Our coaches have us very organized, and we are pushing hard in this part of the season," the first-year CFC player said. "This is the time we live for and why we play the game. Our fans are special. They helped us, and I am glad we brought this championship to Chattanooga."

Coach Bill Elliott had high praise for Torres, who has been a force on both halves of the field this season.

"Gabby is a tremendous all-around player," Elliott said. "He went around a couple of guys and got inside to stick that ball into the back of the net. To win championships, you need plays like that one he gave us."

CFC took a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute as Cameron Woodfin's cross from the left sideline was given a slight touch by Felipe Oliveira right to Hernandez for the direct score.

Asheville City SC finished the season 6-3-3 and scored its lone goal off a penalty kick after a handball in the box.

CFC's Everson Lima and Jordan Dunstan again led the way defensively. Lima is a semifinalist for NPSL player of the year.

Now looking to make a run to the club's fifth national tournament, CFC will continue the fight on the road against a powerful foe.

"Our guys need to get ice baths, cryotherapy, do stretches and rest," Elliott said. "We are going to compete and give it all we have. Even if it's short rest, these guys will be playing with a great purpose."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.