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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga FC will miss another match this weekend as the NISA's suspension in play continues.

This weekend was supposed to contain the fifth National Independent Soccer Association match for the Chattanooga Football Club and the third inside Finley Stadium.

The Los Angeles Force would be in town right now awaiting a showdown with Chattanooga FC, but the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled 10 consecutive CFC matches through a NISA suspension that runs through May 10. CFC was scheduled to play that day against the Cal United Strikers in Irvine, California.

A best-case scenario has CFC hosting Oakland Roots SC on May 16, but even that has a wishful thinking feel.

"We have to plan for it until we're told that's not the date," CFC chief marketing officer Owen Seaton said. "Our league's suspension runs through May 10 right now, which is the same date that MLS has set. Until they tell us differently, that's what we're working for, but I think Memorial Day is probably a more realistic target at this point."

CFC opened its inaugural NISA season on Feb. 29 with a 1-1 draw in Oakland before having an open date. CFC and Detroit City were the only NISA teams relegated to one match before the widespread coronavirus cancellations, with the other six squads getting two.

Chattanooga's other professional soccer team, the Red Wolves, did not get to start the season. The United Soccer League announced Thursday that it would extend its practice moratorium for USL League One clubs, including the Red Wolves, through April 19.

Even a Memorial Day return would place soccer at the forefront of sports coming back, which would have its positives and negatives.

"There has been a little bit of that discussion," CFC coach Peter Fuller said. "It would be great being the first sport to come back, but it's got to be done safely. You walk a tightrope there, because it would be great to come back and crowds were able to come out, but what happens if five people walk away from your first match with the virus and you've got to shut down all over again?

"This isn't an easy tightrope for anybody to walk. Like with every pro league in the country, this is fluid and almost changes daily."

Fuller is making sure his team can stay as sharp as possible during these uncertain weeks. He is using the remote conferencing service Zoom for the first time, as are millions of others across the country, in order to keep up with his players and their exercise routines.

"What we've done is given the players individual training programs, and we've done it in two-week segments," Fuller said. "Every day is different, and we've set it up in such a way that players have access to a gym and are able to train using equipment. The big thing is making sure that guys are doing something every day, and it's set up to where they can do it on their own."

What CFC doesn't want to do in isolation is play without supporters when or if the NISA season returns.

"We're in the same situation as the Lookouts in minor league baseball and some other lower-tier soccer leagues across the country in that we don't have giant TV contracts to fall back on," Seaton said. "Playing games without crowds isn't really a financial option for us."

Said Fuller: "Particularly for the smaller markets in our league, having fans is really important. It's a huge portion of our ability to generate revenue, and it's always a great event any time Chattanooga plays at Finley Stadium."

The NISA schedule for CFC runs through Aug. 1, so there is still time for multiple matches to occur. Coronavirus unknowns remain plentiful and daunting, but Fuller hopes at some point a green light will be given to resume the season.

"We would need at least 14 days to get ready," Fuller said. "In a perfect world, I would say 28 days, but it's obviously not a perfect world. If we had to go play in 48 hours, we would do it, but I would hope they would give us 14 days to get ourselves ready to play."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

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