Chattanooga FC driven to bring NISA championship to the city

Staff file photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Football Club captain Richard Dixon, center, and his teammates will take on Flower City Union in a NISA semifinal at 5 p.m. Sunday at Finley Stadium.
Staff file photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Football Club captain Richard Dixon, center, and his teammates will take on Flower City Union in a NISA semifinal at 5 p.m. Sunday at Finley Stadium.

The Chattanooga Football Club will host a National Independent Soccer Association semifinal Sunday evening knowing there is no guarantee of another game this year.

While a spot in the league's title match may be what Chattanooga FC will be playing for when it takes the field, many hours ahead of kickoff, the team will also remind itself — as always — of one of the biggest reasons why it wants to win.

CFC has been one of the most dominant professional soccer organizations in the country in 2023 while striving for the club's ultimate goal: bringing a championship to Chattanooga.

"The whole city is behind us," said Rod Underwood, who is in his second season as CFC's coach. "Our fans really propel us. We wake up in the morning and say we want to play for the city. I have been in a lot of great soccer towns, but here it means more than anywhere I have been."

Team captain Richard Dixon felt the excitement grow throughout the week while practicing at Finley Stadium, where top-seeded CFC (15-2-7) will be considered the heavy favorites against No. 6 Flower City Union (8-13-3) in the 5 p.m. match. Flower City has already pulled off one playoff upset, though, defeating the third-seeded Los Angeles Force 4-2 in an Oct. 29 quarterfinal.

If CFC can take down an opponent it outscored 4-0 in four matches this season, the boys in blue will become the first professional soccer team in Tennessee to host a championship match.

"We have put in the work for the past 10 1/2 months and trusted our coaching staff and our tactical principles," Dixon said. "Last year's 1-nil semifinal loss (to the Michigan Stars) left a bitter taste in our mouths. What's important for us is to control our emotions, mindset and attitude.

"We know if we play our best football, not many teams can keep up with us. We have laid a really good foundation to give ourselves a chance to win a championship."

One NISA finalist has already been determined. In the other semifinal, held Saturday, second-seeded Michigan won 3-2 against No. 4 Albion San Diego in a rematch of last year's title match won by the Stars. If CFC beats Flower City, the final will be held at Finley on Sunday, Nov. 12, but Michigan would host if Flower City advances.

The top two seeds had byes in the opening round last weekend.

CFC led the league in both scoring (41) and goals allowed (12) during the regular season, and the club's goal differential was six greater than last season while also allowing nine fewer goals. Through Labor Day weekend, CFC was America's lone undefeated pro soccer team with a 12-0-5 record, and the club is 9-0-4 at home in 2023 entering the semifinal.

"We have some core values we haven't changed whatsoever," Underwood said. "We just want to be the best. We want to be the best at everything in the league. Every statistic. Our motto is we come out to dominate everything. To us, there is no other choice. We want to dominate the game from start to finish in every phase. Flower City will want to do the same thing. That's what playoffs are about."

With confidence in the soccer it has played all year, CFC believes it's ready for the big moments to come in the postseason.

"We know everybody has been gunning for us, so we have attacked each day by trying to get 1% better," Dixon said. "That's why we have been in the position we have all season. That's the mindset we will continue on with through the playoffs. The biggest thing is just having the confidence in what we have done all year."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com.