In some way, shape or form, professional soccer is set to be played in Chattanooga this summer.
The National Independent Soccer Association, which includes the Chattanooga Football Club, announced Thursday that it will have a "fall" schedule that begins in early August and is broken into two parts: regional competition and a postseason tournament.
And on Friday, League One of the United Soccer League, which includes the Chattanooga Red Wolves, announced a return-to-play model that is tentatively scheduled to begin July 18.
Both Chattanooga FC and the Red Wolves were among the teams forced to take a step back in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down pro sports.
CFC had played just one match in its debut pro and NISA season — a 1-1 draw against Oakland Roots SC in California — and the 12-year-old club was two days from its 2020 home opener at Finley Stadium. The Red Wolves had yet to start their second season, anticipated in part due to the move to CHI Memorial Stadium, their new facility in East Ridge.
The 10-team NISA will have Eastern and Western designations for conference play, with each team playing a home-and-home series with each foe in its conference. Eastern teams will start Aug. 8 and Western teams Sept. 5, with the playoffs set for a single location in "late October," according to the NISA release.
NISA did not reveal the makeup of the conferences, saying schedule details will be announced later. In addition to CFC, the league includes four California teams (California United Strikers FC, Los Angeles Force, Oakland and San Diego 1904 FC), two New York teams (New Amsterdam FC and New York Cosmos), Detroit City FC, Michigan Stars FC and Stumptown Athletic, a club from Matthews, North Carolina.
As far as any potential scheduling snags for CFC, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team has home games at Finley Stadium on Sept. 19 against North Alabama and Sept. 26 against Virginia Military Institute.
Neither release said whether fans would be allowed at games, and USL League One's announcement that its Board of Governors had approved a framework for returning gave no details on its schedule format, but for now the promise of playing might be enough.
"Today's announcement gives us a clearer direction to finally play professional soccer again in the Scenic City," Red Wolves general manager and president Sean McDaniel said in a release on the team's website. "We have all been anxiously awaiting for quite some time for establishing a safe return to play and it's looking very good for us to do so soon. Everyone from the players to the fans can now start looking forward to the near future of enjoying the beautiful game in CHI Memorial Stadium."
First-year Red Wolves coach Jimmy Obleda called the news "a big step for all of us."
"It gives us a tangible start that we can begin working towards," he added. "It allows the coaching staff and players to get in the mindset that we are going to be playing very soon. So let's get ready."