With a 4-1 shot advantage through the 32nd minute, the Chattanooga Football Club looked excellent against the National Premier Soccer League runner-up New York Cosmos.
While a press installed by assistant coach Peter Fuller worked wonders for CFC in creating opportunities, it did not result in a goal.
Déja vu struck with a one-score differential going New York's way in a 1-0 match Saturday night in the opener to the NPSL Members Cup in front of 3,500 at Finley Stadium.
"In the end it really came down to free kicks," veteran CFC coach Bill Elliott said. "We had a dangerous one in the first half in a good area, and we hit the crossbar. New York got one in a very similar area, and they scored it with an absolutely top-shelf kick."
The Cosmos' goal was beamed to the top right of the net by Junior Burgos in the 83rd minute soon after a penalty lined up a free kick at the top right side just outside the 18-yard box.
Despite a loss that came down to a whistle, CFC continues to be led by the shutdown presence of left back Jordan Dunstan. New York had trouble getting free and into the box throughout the match and was forced into turnovers that generated a vicious attack for a team looking to avenge a 3-2 loss to Chattanooga in the 2015 NPSL championship match.
"For us to come out and put in this kind of work and performances shows a lot of character," Dunstan said. "We are fighting week in and week out for each other and this city. We literally play with our hearts on our sleeves and leave it all on the field."
Said Elliott: "Jordan does a tremendous job. For the life of me, I don't know why he hasn't climbed up in the soccer world to higher-level teams. But every day we have him is a blessing for us, and we are lucky to have him."
CFC looked like a championship club early as it went on the run and kept the visitors from Brooklyn on their heels and frustrated.
Marcus Smarzoch's run down the middle drew a free kick for Juan Sanchez in the 14th minute that struck the top of the right goal post.
Jose "Zeca" Ferraz sent in a stinger in the 28th minute that was knocked away at the last possible moment by Cosmos keeper Santiago Castano, who also smothered a shot by Joao Costa right at him in the 32nd.
"Our press jump-started the attack," Elliott said. "We were winning the ball in good areas and then had one or two passes and were right in there. We were maybe unlucky to not put one in the back of the net."
Playing its first game since July 16 in a 1-0 loss to Miami FC, which won the national championship by beating the Cosmos 2-0 on July 27, CFC hung tough but fell by the slimmest of margins.
Chattanooga keeper Phil D'Amico made four saves, including a pair of diving grabs.
"When you play Miami, New York Cosmos, Detroit City, you get better because you are playing teams on your level," Elliott said. "You have to fight, scrap and lay it all out to get results. That's how you improve."
CFC will travel to Detroit City for its second match in the Members Cup next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern.