As close as the Chattanooga Red Wolves were to qualifying for the USL League One postseason last year, it's no surprise that little things cost them in the end.
A point here, a point there. A late goal allowed here, a slow start there. It all added up to a level of inconsistency that prevented the Red Wolves from advancing to the four-team playoff in the inaugural season for both them and the professional soccer league, which has gone from 10 teams to 11 this year.
So heading into the opener of their 2020 regular season — the Red Wolves play their first of 16 scheduled league matches at 8 p.m. Saturday against South Georgia Tormenta FC at Erk Russell Park in Statesboro — they hope to clean up the little things that plagued them last year.
A closer look at last season shows just how close they were. There were five one-goal losses and five draws away from David Stanton Field at Chattanooga Christian School, the club's home site last year. Two of those draws came against last-place Orlando City B, one when the Red Wolves led for more than 70 minutes of match time only to allow a goal in added time that cost the club two points in the league standings.
There was also a 4-3 loss at Lansing Ignite FC in which the Red Wolves gave up a goal in the 90th minute that proved to be the difference.
A point here, a point there.
"We were very disappointed last year with the way we ended the season," midfielder Josue Soto said Thursday. "We thought we had a good enough group of players to be in the playoffs and compete for the title, and that's been the driving force this offseason, especially for the guys coming back. We don't want to have another bad season."
To be fair, it wasn't that bad of a season. The Red Wolves did finish with an overall mark of 10-8-10 — only league champion North Texas SC went 10-1-3 at home for the only such record better than Chattanooga's 8-1-5 — but only Orlando City B had a worse record on the road (1-12-1) than the Red Wolves' 2-7-5.
But one can look at those 10 ties, especially in both road matches against last-place Orlando, as opportunities lost.
Winning at the professional level is difficult, especially on the road, but the chances the Red Wolves weren't able to capitalize on cost them as they finished three points out of the final playoff spot. Getting wins as opposed to draws at Orlando — or the 1-0 loss at ninth-place Richmond or the two losses at eighth-place FC Tucson, for that matter — might have led to more opportunities and success.
Instead, the points added up to less than enough for a spot in the playoffs.
"All of those points on the road are very important," Soto said. "Those points in the middle of the season, points we think may not be that big of a deal, but if we lose two points, they catch up to you in the end.
"So with this season being 16 games, we have to be close to the top from the beginning."
New Red Wolves head coach Jimmy Obleda is in charge of a revamped roster with multiple new players, and when they play their home opener on Saturday, Aug. 1, against Tucson, it will also be the first match at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge.
His biggest focus so far has been improving a defense that conceded 37 goals, but the offseason has been greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The club was initially supposed to start play in March, but instead wasn't able to do any workouts until May, team practices only started on June 29, and four weeks later, the Red Wolves are ready to resume play.
"It's a team effort; it's a collective effort," Obleda said. "We want to take pride in our defending and really take it to heart. Someone scoring on us is not going to be easy, and we're going to get very upset about it. So the blue-collar mentality is something we've instilled from the beginning when we don't have the ball, and we'll find out how it goes this first game."
CHATTANOOGA RED WOLVES 2020 SCHEDULE
All matches listed in USL League One play; home matches at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge
Sat., July 25 — at South Georgia Tormenta FC, 8 p.m.
Sat., Aug. 1 — vs. FC Tucson, 5 p.m.
Sat., Aug. 8 — at North Texas SC, TBA
Wed., Aug. 12 — vs. Union Omaha, 5 p.m.
Sat., Aug. 15 — at Greenville Triumph SC, TBA
Sat., Aug. 22 — vs. South Georgia Tormenta FC, 5 p.m.
Sat., Aug. 29 — vs. New England Revolution II, 5 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 5 — at Fort Lauderdale CF, TBA
Wed., Sept. 9 — at New England Revolution II, 7 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 12 — vs. Richmond Kickers, 5 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 19 — vs. Greenville Triumph SC, 5 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 26 — vs. Forward Madison FC, TBA
Wed., Oct. 7 — vs. North Texas SC, 5 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 10 — at Orlando City B, TBA
Sat., Oct. 17 — vs. Forward Madison FC, 5 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 24 — at Richmond Kickers, 6:30 p.m.