Chattanooga Red Wolves fall in close USL League One title match

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Red Wolves fans celebrate on the field at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge after Alex Tejera scored during the USL League One title match against South Georgia Tormenta on Sunday night. The stadium hosted a watch party for fans who couldn't make it to Statesboro for the league final.
Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Red Wolves fans celebrate on the field at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge after Alex Tejera scored during the USL League One title match against South Georgia Tormenta on Sunday night. The stadium hosted a watch party for fans who couldn't make it to Statesboro for the league final.

A magical playoff run for the Chattanooga Red Wolves fell just short.

South Georgia Tormenta FC became the fourth league champion in USL League One history as Jamil Roberts came off the bench to score the winning goal in the 82nd minute of Sunday night's 2-1 home victory over Chattanooga in Statesboro.

Roberts' memorable finish was assisted by Kazaiah Sterling, who also scored the first goal of the title bout on a penalty kick in the 35th minute.

Chattanooga equalized just before the end of the first half as captain Jose Carrera-Garcia sent a 45-yard free kick from the left sideline to the right side of the box, where Alex Tejera sent the ball in to the bottom right side of the net with a leaping header. The assist was Carrera-Garcia's ninth of the season and sixth off a set piece.

Nearly 200 fans gathered during a watch party at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge, the Red Wolves' home, setting up on the field to view ESPN's telecast on the venue's large videoboard.

They were obviously disappointed.

"I don't think the refs called a fair match," Red Wolves Francis Revollo said. "I think the penalty kick they were rewarded was complete bogus. It wasn't a call they should have made. Then at the end we lost a couple of minutes with a little altercation, and none of it was rewarded back to us.

"I feel like we were robbed. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Now we just have to wait for next year."

The altercation in the five minutes of final stoppage time came when Chattanooga's Daniel Navarro fouled Sterling. As Sterling tried to get back up from under Navarro, he swung his arm out, sending Navarro back to the ground and causing a a dealy of nearly two minutes that wasn't added on to the five minutes of stoppage time.

Third-seeded Tormenta (15-9-9), which held a 10-9 shot advantage in the match, became the first team to win the USL League One title that did not also finish first in the regular season.

Fourth-seeded Chattanooga (14-12-7) made a valiant run to the title match, as acting head coach Jimmy Weekley led a motivated group to the club's best finish yet. Weekley took over as coach after Jimmy Obleda's league-issued suspension on July 22, when the team was just 6-8-2 overall.

"If you had told me back in June that the Red Wolves would have made the League One final, I would have thought that was kind of fanciful," said Alex Fordney, who has had season tickets since the team began competition in 2019. "The way they fought and pulled themselves together in the middle of the season and went on a run to get to the final, it really makes you proud of everything those players accomplished.

"I am heartbroken they couldn't get a championship out of it. I feel like they really deserved to win the league with as hard as they played."


NISA: Michigan is the champ

A week after their strong defense and a lone goal were enough to get the Michigan Stars past the Chattanooga Football Club in a National Independent Soccer Association semifinal at Finley Stadium, a 1-0 win against Albion San Diego lifted the Metro Detroit club to the NISA title at home.

Anthony Bowie scored in the 31st minute of Sunday afternoon's match, and the lead held as Michigan controlled the pace, finishing with a 12-5 advantage in shots on goal and getting a trio of saves from keeper Tatenda Mkuruva.

The final was a matchup of two lower seeds after No. 3 Michigan beat No. 2 Chattanooga FC and No. 4 San Diego topped No. 1 Cal United 4-2 a week earlier.

Michigan went 10-8-5 during the regular season, including 0-1-3 with a trio of scoreless ties against CFC, before its postseason run that started with a 2-0 quarterfinal win against Syracuse.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.