After days of dealing with tragedy, the city of Chattanooga needed a reason to cheer — to be happy.
The Chattanooga Football Club provided a touch of that Saturday evening.
The club received an early goal from Jose Ferraz and held on to defeat the Miami Fusion FC 1-0 in an NPSL South Region semifinal with a season-high attendance of 6,143 at Finley Stadium. CFC (15-1-2) will visit the Myrtle Beach Mutiny (12-1-1), who defeated FC Wichita 3-1 in the other semifinal, in the region hampionship match next Saturday.
The Chattanooga players — who won without leading goal scorer Luke Winter and defender James Moore — wore black bands on their left biceps to honor the five military personnel who died as a result of attacks on two facilities in the city Thursday. Poles on the visiting side of the field that normally display flags from different countries had American flags flying at half staff.
Shirts with the hashtag #NoogaStrong were sold before the match, with proceeds designated for a charity to benefit the victims and families affected by the events.
Although from different parts of the world, some of the CFC players have been in Chattanooga for years, looking at the town as like a second home.
"Even though some of our players aren't from here, we're aware of what happened," said Ferraz, a third-year member of the club. "Our families at home received the news, and for those who passed (away) fighting and defending this country, we're proud to represent them and send a message to their families. We're proud of what we've done with the community here, and it was a good way to give back to them with a win, to show that we're Nooga Strong."
His goal came in the 14th minute, as he slid and put a Leo De Smedt feed in the back of the net. From that point forward, CFC had to be on the defensive as Miami presented a very organized attack and was able to create some opportunities. In the 28th minute, goalkeeper Greg Hartley ranged to his right to deflect a low shot by Raphael Carminati.
The Fusion continued to create chances, even after a red card issued to Stanley Guirand in the 63rd minute forced the club to play a man down the rest of the match.
"Our defense has been strong all year. Even when we've made one or two mistakes, we've corrected them," Hartley said. "We got up 1-0, and we knew they were going to come out hard, so we had to defend as a unit — defend our fortress and play our game."
Chattanooga FC will play next weekend in its first away playoff match since the 2013 season. If it wins, there's a chance that it could host the national semifinals in two weeks, but CFC coach Bill Elliott, a Chattanooga native, wasn't concerned about those things Saturday night.
"What happened this week humbled us all and put things in perspective," he said. "Emotionally, I wanted this win for the city of Chattanooga more than any match I've ever coached in. I'm incredibly lucky, incredibly blessed to be a part of what I hope is the healing process beginning.
"Traveling in the playoffs is something new — we haven't had to do much of that in recent years — and we'll wrap our heads around this tomorrow. Tonight I just want the boys to enjoy the moment with the fans."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.