Matt Aldred had quite the decision to make.
The Chattanooga Football Club was scheduled to host the Harrisburg City Islanders in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on June 1. Aldred, a CFC midfielder, had just been asked by teammate Luke Winter, a forward, to be a part of his wedding.
It was scheduled for the same day as the match.
The two had only known each other for a year, but they created a bond last summer during their first season playing together for CFC. So for Aldred — "Aldo" to his teammates — the decision was a tough one. Should he remain with the team and miss the wedding or join Winter and soon-to-be-wife Erica on their big day?
Aldred decided to attend the wedding only after talking with CFC general manager Sean McDaniel, head coach Bill Elliott and assistant coach Jimmy Weekley.
"When he first asked me about it, I was angry," Aldred said. "I was happy for him, and I was frustrated I couldn't play in the game. I didn't know what I was going to do. I spoke to him the Saturday night before the Wednesday (of the wedding) and told him I wasn't sure about it. He said something about the friendship we had last summer when I first came to (Chattanooga).
"Soccer is big, but friends are family and will always be before that. It's a shame I missed a good game, but I had to be there for him, and I'm glad I was. He'll be a friend for life, and at the end of the day, it was a no-brainer really. Bonds you have through sports are a reason a lot of people play sports, and the friends you make are friends for life. Even though we'd known each other for just one season, we had a great time and it was one of the best summers of my life, so I had to go."
He wasn't the only teammate at Winter's wedding.
Soccer linked Winter to CFC midfielder John Carrier 12 years ago when the two were playing together in Norwich, England. Winter chose to come to the United States to attend Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, with Carrier soon making the same decision.
So when Winter approached Carrier with the proposition of being his best man, it was a simple decision.
"As soon as I got to Chattanooga in the summer, he said, 'John, I think I'm getting married," Carrier said. "It was like, 'Wow.' Things just kept escalating, day by day, week after week. Then the wedding was planned, and there were cakes, cupcakes, rings and wedding dresses, and I was like, 'You're going to get married.' He was like, 'Yeah,' then he told me, 'I'm getting married next week and I want you to be my best man.'
"I was like, 'I'm on it.' He's been my best mate for 12 years now, so I'm absolutely buzzing for him."
It had taken Winter about six months to "build up the courage" to propose to Erica Thompson. He left her notes for about six months, with each little postcard containing one of the letters to the question "Will you marry me?"
"I didn't think anything of it because every letter sent had nothing to do with marriage," Erica said. "It was a postcard, flowers, notes, and I had put them up on a post-it board.
"He had to tell me to put them in order. I was very surprised."
Luke said it didn't take "long at all" for Erica to say yes. They chose June 1 for their wedding because when CFC first announced its 2016 schedule, there was no match that day. It wasn't until after the club's win over Reading United that the engaged couple realized there was a dilemma.
"He picked the date," Erica said. "His family was already coming in, but I went ahead and asked him if he wanted to move the wedding up. I didn't really want to share my wedding day, but I felt I was going to have an uproar if I didn't give the option.
"But he said no, that was going to be our day, and he didn't budge on it."
The two were married at The Venue Chattanooga in Lookout Valley the same day CFC lost 2-1 to Harrisburg, ending its U.S. Open Cup run. Interestingly, Winter also missed the team's next match — a 2-1 home win against Memphis City FC three days later — due to a wedding when a friend got married in Knoxville.
But he was back for this past Tuesday's match against the Knoxville Force. He nearly scored a goal and watched Carrier score his first goals since July 2014 as Aldred and the CFC defense kept Knoxville out of the net for the club's first shutout of the season in a 4-0 win.
CFC is on the road tonight for a National Premier Soccer League Southeast Division match against the New Orleans Jesters at 7:30.
And no matter what else happens this season, Winter will have a special memory of his teammates that doesn't involve soccer.
"Everything came together like we wanted it to," he said. "Like it was meant to."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.