Saturday night, the Chattanooga Football Club didn't conduct its beloved postmatch tradition of allowing fans onto the field for autographs after the team's 4-3 exhibition loss to Real Betis of Spain's La Liga.
That doesn't mean there weren't a lot of autographs being sought, but it was the Chattanooga FC players eagerly seeking a signed jersey or selfie photo with some of the top soccer players in the world on the team they'd just played in Finley Stadium.
"This is big-time to play against a high-level team from the first division in Spain," CFC forward Joao Costa said after the match. "It's something unreal for us. We usually are playing these guys on the video games, so this is a dream come true."
Costa gave his team the chance to dream of a victory in the 12th minute of play when he took a pass from Juan Hernandez and put a shot past Real Betis goalkeeper Joel for an early 1-0 lead against a team coming off road wins over La Liga rival Real Madrid and Major League Soccer's D.C. United.
"We started dreaming about competing, and that's what they did," CFC coach Bill Elliott said. "We knew they were good and were going to turn it on and put some pressure on us, but we got three goals tonight against a team that went into D.C. and beat a good MLS team 5-2. For us to get a 4-3 result, I couldn't be more proud of our guys tonight."
Despite continual pressure, Real Betis couldn't find the goal as the first half wound down with CFC goalkeeper Phil D'Amico making several spectacular saves. Finally in extra time at the end of the half, Sergio Leon got the ball just to the left of the goal and scored the equalizer for Los Verdiblancos to send the game to halftime tied 1-1.
"Even in a friendly game, it's not really friendly," Real Betis captain Joaquin said through an interpreter. "Everyone wants to win. When we let a first goal like that go in, we knew we had to step it up to get the win."
After the break, Real Betis put in several subs from its development team who were more used to playing on an artificial surface like the one at Finley Stadium. Reserve Jesé put Real Betis ahead in the 68th minute and scored again in the 72nd minute for a 3-1 lead.
Rodri added a goal in the 80th minute to put the Béticos ahead 4-1, but CFC showed fight late in the match. A goal from the penalty spot by Alun Webb in the 84th minute made it a 4-2 game, and Jose "Zeca" Ferraz scored in extra time to give CFC a very respectable scoreline against one of the top teams in world soccer in front of 6,115 fans.
"It's great. It was awesome and the fans were excited," Joaquin said. "Although soccer may not be the most popular sport here, you can tell there are a lot of people excited about it. It's great to be a part of that and contribute to that."
CFC returns to National Premiere Soccer League play next Saturday when the Georgia Revolution visit Finley Stadium. CFC will go from being the scrappy underdog back to its usual position as the cream of the crop in its league.
"We learned that we can play up to a high level of competition," Elliott said. "When we get back into league play, everybody is chasing us. Sometimes it's hard to be the hunted.
"We know it's going to be a grind and be tough. We're going to get back to work this week and try to do something next Saturday."