Chattanooga FC's James Kasak returns from injury to star in NISA debut

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga FC's James Kasak, middle, celebrates with Ian McGrath, right, after Kasak assisted McGrath's goal in Saturday's 2-0 victory over New Amsterdam FC at Finley Stadium.
Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga FC's James Kasak, middle, celebrates with Ian McGrath, right, after Kasak assisted McGrath's goal in Saturday's 2-0 victory over New Amsterdam FC at Finley Stadium.

When James Kasak signed with the Chattanooga Football Club earlier this year, he marveled at the opportunity to begin his professional career with what he described as a "historic club."

The promising 23-year-old winger did not waste any time in his National Independent Soccer Association debut Saturday night at Finley Stadium, executing with precision on the left side of a 3-4-3 formation, a new look for Chattanooga FC.

Kasak was one of the country's top prep soccer players in 2016, when he scored 75 goals and had 28 assists for Riverheads High School in Staunton, Virginia. He went on to Virginia Tech, where he contributed four goals and 12 assists as a back line defender while making 40 straight starts in his final two seasons.

Coach Peter Fuller's plan to utilize the former Hokies standout in CFC's attack to create more scoring opportunities worked wonders in Kasak's first match since showing promise in a preseason loss to Louisville City on April 3. Kasak, who was out for two months due to multiple injuries, delivered beautiful crosses and picked apart defenders to assist both goals in Saturday's 2-0 home victory over New Amsterdam FC.

"The new system we used was able to allow us to get more players into the attacking third," Fuller said. "I was very pleased because there are some really interesting possibilities with that system.

"James also provided a jolt to our attack. He and Brett Jones are two guys on this team that can create their own stuff in terms of shots, setting up a defender and crossing a ball. They are very creative, and to have James back is huge for our team."

photo Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga FC's James Kasak sticks his foot out to defend against a New Amsterdam FC attacker during Saturday's NISA match at Finley Stadium. Kasak had two assists as CFC won 2-0.

While he played defense in college, Kasak is used to making a difference on the offensive end, and his presence on the left wing could prove vital for CFC, which has several talented options in the middle of its attack, including Brian Bement, Ian McGrath and Markus Naglestad.

Bement and Naglestad did not play against New Amsterdam or in the match before that against the Maryland Bobcats FC while serving a league-issued suspension for an incident at the end of CFC's May 8 home win against the Michigan Stars FC. Bement was back on the field during Wednesday night's 2-0 road loss to the Los Angeles Force, though, and Naglestad is working to return from injury.

Kasak has already made a strong impression in his limited time playing with new teammates, including Sean Hoffstatter, who scored with a perfect chip shot off a nice feed from Kasak in the second half against New Amsterdam.

"Having Kasak back is huge for us," Hoffstatter said Saturday night. "He is so fast and can beat anyone one on one. When you see him with the ball, you give him the space to do his thing, whether he is inside or outside. He played some great balls in to us tonight and really showed the impact he can make."

CFC (2-2-1) remains in California for another match this week, against San Diego 1904 FC (2-2-0) at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, before hosting Stumptown AC on June 19 and traveling to Detroit City FC to close its regular-season schedule for the spring on June 26.

CFC is fifth in the nine-team league standings, but a runner-up finish in the Legends Cup tournament at Finley Stadium in April has already secured a berth in the June 30 match at Keyworth Stadium - Detroit City's home venue - that will determine who plays fall champion Detroit for the overall 2020-21 NISA championship. Detroit will also host that July 3 match.

After his big night against New Amsterdam, Kasak explained how he hopes to continue to find ways to spark CFC's success.

"I like to go at guys and get the ball in the box. I started out as a winger and am very comfortable where I am playing," he said. "It's a little less defending, so I can work more on attacking. Coach told me before the game, just make an impact. Create chances and do whatever you can to get the ball in the box. All the guys did their job and played well."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.