If the Chattanooga Red Wolves find themselves outside of the USL League One postseason this year, they can look no further than matches such as Saturday's home loss to South Georgia Tormenta FC for the reason why.
Too many times early in this 16-match regular season, the Red Wolves have lacked the sense of urgency necessary to take care of opportunities. Opportunities with matches played. Opportunities with chances created during the matches. It has all added up to a 1-2-2 start for the second-year soccer team.
The Red Wolves led for more than 50 minutes of game clock Saturday at CHI Memorial Stadium, which only makes the 2-1 defeat sting that much more. It also continued a recurring theme of the Red Wolves' inability to hold onto a lead. They played Tormenta to only a draw in the season opener despite leading for more than 31 minutes in Statesboro, and they also held a first-half lead against 2019 league champion North Texas SC in a match that ended in a 2-2 draw in Arlington.
With a condensed schedule due to the late start forced by the coronavirus pandemic, there aren't four teams advancing to the league playoffs, which the Red Wolves nearly made last year. There will only be a championship final in late October, which has put a larger premium on each match. So when the Red Wolves don't take advantages of opportunities to score and add to their lead in matches such as Saturday's, it only adds to the frustration of first-year head coach Jimmy Obleda.
"We've got to figure that out. We have to figure that out," a visibly upset Obleda said after Saturday's match. "That's something we need to do right now, and to be honest, it's not us figuring it out, it's them (the players), because we're putting them in the right positions. We give them the right opportunities, we give them all the situations that they're to be in. It's them putting it away or closing a game and playing a full 90 (minutes)."
Greg Hurst, who has five of the team's six goals this year, put one away on a nice pass from Mark Hernandez in the 26th minute against South Georgia (2-3-2). As in times before, the Red Wolves had a few opportunities to score after that but failed.
The defense, which had been solid for large portions of the match, finally cracked late in the second half, with Travis Nicklaw called for fouling Pato Botello Faz. That led to a penalty kick, which was put away by Marco Micoletto.
Three minutes later, Luca Mayr-Fälten scored on a corner kick, and the Red Wolves weren't able to equalize despite a couple of solid chances towards the end.
Now they have a week before their next match, at 1 p.m. on Aug. 29 at home against the New England Revolution II (0-2-2), who host the league-leading Greenville Triumph SC on Wednesday before making the trip to Tennessee.
"It's just like a sense of inevitability that they're going to concede a goal if we're not taking our chances, and once that creeps into your game, you're in trouble," Red Wolves captain Steven Beattie said. "Naturally you start to defend deeper and deeper, and suddenly you're on your 18-yard box and, you know, we gave away a penalty.
"I mean, I think we probably had triple the chances. Credit Tormenta; they are experienced. They took their chances and they walk away here with three points, and that's football: You don't take your chances, you're in trouble."