Wiedmer: Even in defeat, CFC won

Wiedmer: Even in defeat, CFC won

August 9th, 2015 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The Chattahooligans cheer before Chattanooga Football Club's NPSL national championship match against the New York Cosmos B on Saturday at Finley Stadium.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Chattanooga FC vs. New York Cosmos B

+17
more photos

At 8:02 on Saturday evening, with the Chattanooga Football Club's National Premier Soccer League championship game against the New York Cosmos B already 20 minutes old, CFC co-founder Tim Kelly stopped by the Finley Stadium press box long enough to announce, "We're literally almost out of tickets. We're going to have to use last year's tickets to let people in."

Talk about giving a whole new meaning to the iconic line: "It's football time in Tennessee."

What we had Saturday night on the Southside was one of those sports moments that will be revisited in the Scenic City for decades to come. Only 20 years from now, there may be 35,000 people in our town claiming they were one of the 18,227 folks wise enough to make their way to Finley for the biggest soccer night in Chattanooga's history.

Talk about #NoogaStrong.

No, it didn't end well. The wrong team won, though it took the Cosmos extra periods to claim a 3-2 victory. And even then the outcome wasn't guaranteed until New York goalie Kyle Zobeck stunningly stopped Samuel Goni's point-blank kick with less than 35 seconds to go.

That said, there's a reason why New York was the league's best team all season, a nearly irresistible offensive machine. Befitting a franchise that, in another life and league, once employed Pelé, the Cosmos could find a weak spot in the Great Wall of China.

And their coach, who once played with Pelé, gave the Chattanooga crowd — reportedly the largest to ever view an amateur soccer match in the United States — much credit for making this the great, tight game that it was.

"I've played in big games, in packed stadiums," said Alecko Eskandarian, "and this was as good an atmosphere as I've ever seen. There were times when you felt like we were playing against 18,000 players on the field."

Or as Chattanooga coach Bill Elliott, who played high school soccer at Hixson, said, "The crowd was unbelievable."

Unbelievable and indescribable and so wonderful you felt the need to trot out the Mary Poppins word to end all words — supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

It started long before this game began, the fans appearing as early as 4 p.m. for a kickoff at 7:42 p.m. The parking lots adjacent to the stadium were overrun by 6:30, despite most charging $10. By 7, there were easily more than 12,000 inside the stadium. By match's beginning, that number had swelled to close to 17,000.

And they kept coming. And coming.

"In some ways, this is a function of being in the right place at the right time," Kelly said in the final moments before Caitlin Hammon Moore delivered another perfect rendition of the national anthem, much as she had two days after a terrorist act senselessly took the lives of four Marines and a Naval petty officer in our once-innocent city.

"I certainly think the tragedy generated a lot of love and sympathy for Chattanooga," Kelly added. "I also think some of this has been as much about civic pride as soccer. This is very much about the level of love for this community. But I also believe we're becoming a mecca for this level of soccer.We've got a lot of soccer converts in this area."

One of those is Galen Riley, the unofficial chief cheerleader of the Chattahooligans, who have done so much to make Finley feisty over the years, regardless of the overall size of the crowd.

A near-constant presence since 2009, even Riley was stunned by the crowd, saying, "If you'd told me then that we would pack this place for the New York Cosmos, I'd have called you a liar. This was just an amazing atmosphere."

The selling of beer surely helps. The second loudest cheer of the night — other than the tying score delivered by CFC's Chris Ochieng in the match's 68th minute — arrived when they announced that beer would be sold through the first 15-minute bonus period.

The Hooligans have become so big that the Chattanooga Brewing Company's newest brew is called "Chattahooligan lager."

And all of it — the beer, the tragedy, the chance to see a national championship come to Chattanooga — certainly helps. After all, everybody loves a winner, regardless of the level of play.

But something happened inside Finley and throughout our town over the past 24 days following the July 16 terrorist attack that almost never happens for communities these days.

Or as 25-year-old Lauren Bailey mused at the start of the second bonus period, "This is the feeling you're supposed to get at an event like this. Especially after all we've been through the last few weeks."

The feeling you're supposed to get. Absolutely.

And perhaps we'll feel it again 10 days from today, when the Women's World Cup champion U.S. team arrives for its exhibition match against Costa Rica. Because no matter how much you love your city, you should love your country and those who represent it all the more.

You wonder, though, if the passion will be as great as it was Saturday night, when you could barely hear yourself think, the roar was so loud and long.

"This night," said league commissioner Joe Barone, "will be hard to replicate in the future."

And it will, but that doesn't mean it can't happen again here.

Or as CFC board member Marshall Brock noted, "We really believe in the power of this great sport to bring people together."

And he's got proof of 18,227 folks crammed into Finley for an amateur soccer match to strongly support his argument.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...