Chattanooga FC pro soccer debut at Finley Stadium is city's first notable athletic coronavirus casualty

Staff file photo / Juan Hernandez and his Chattanooga FC teammates were set to play their first match at Finley Stadium as a professional team this weekend, but they have joined the countless athletes on hold due to coronavirus concerns.

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Another notable event in the 12-year history of the Chattanooga Football Club was supposed to occur Saturday.

At 3 p.m. at Finley Stadium, Chattanooga FC was scheduled to host the Michigan Stars in its first home match as a professional team and member of the National Independent Soccer Association. On Thursday, however, the match joined the countless professional, college, high school and youth athletic events either postponed or canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

CFC opened its first professional spring in impressive fashion Feb. 29, traveling to California and playing Oakland Roots SC to a 1-1 draw.

"Obviously, all the guys are disappointed," CFC midfielder Ian McGrath said. "We kind of had a bye week, which was a little disappointing in itself, but the guys had been training so hard for two weeks and really preparing for this home match that everybody in this whole city was excited about. To be so close is disappointing, but obviously sports organizations around the world are doing the same thing.

"It's the sensible decision, obviously, but the guys are disappointed to not be playing in front of a home crowd this weekend."

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Ian McGrath, right, shown playing for Inter Nashville FC during a match against Chattanooga FC on July 4, 2018, at Finley Stadium, is now in his first season with CFC.

CFC chief marketing officer Owen Seaton declined to reveal how many tickets had been sold for the match.

The NBA suspending its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz 7-foot-1, 260-pound center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus had Seaton believing CFC's match was in jeopardy. On Thursday morning, that decision was made for him and other team officials.

"The mayor's office basically let us know that we could cancel or they would cancel for us," Seaton said.

By Thursday afternoon, the NISA had announced it would be suspending league play for 30 days, which followed Major League Soccer evoking a suspension of the same length. CFC also had matches at Finley Stadium scheduled for March 21 and April 4.

"Given the givens, I think we landed in the right place and that this was definitely the right thing to do - hitting the pause button in this environment," Seaton said. "We want to be clear that we're not feeding into the hysteria. To be honest, I think we could have played this weekend and have been fine. At Finley Stadium, we have more than enough room for everybody to spread out.

"At the same time, you can't be the only people in town playing while everybody else is not playing."

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga FC players huddle before the start of extra time during a playoff match against the Atlanta Silverbacks on July 14, 2018, at Finley Stadium.

Seaton said CFC players will continue to be paid, housed and fed during the next month, but they will have to wait much longer than expected to build off their professional debut in Oakland.

"It was a great experience," McGrath said. "The atmosphere was excellent and electric. They said they had a sellout crowd, and I think it was between 6,000 and 7,000. We went out there and executed our game plan pretty well, and at the end of the day, we went out there in front of a tough crowd and got a point - the first point of the professional career of the CFC.

"Overall, all of us really enjoyed that experience."

So what is a professional soccer player expected to do without soccer matches for the foreseeable future?

"That's a good question," McGrath said. "I'll probably continue to train and work out, but I'm also hoping to get a couple of rounds of golf in if the weather ever cooperates."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.