Updated with more information at 7:40 p.m. on March 12, 2020.
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Professional soccer in the Scenic City is on standby.
Two days before the Chattanooga Football Club was to play as a professional team at Finley Stadium for the first time, the National Independent Soccer Association announced a 30-day suspension of its league schedule Thursday, effective immediately, from NISA headquarters in Chicago.
The break in play for the eight-team NISA, which launched last year, is due to concerns about the novel coronavirus outbreak. For the same reason, the United Soccer League announced Thursday its USL League One would suspend preseason activities and delay the start of the 2020 season for at least two weeks.
The Chattanooga Red Wolves are one of the 10 teams in USL League One, which played its first full season in 2019. They were scheduled to open their season March 27 in South Carolina against Greenville Triumph SC.
Chattanooga FC's home opener was scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday against Michigan Stars FC, but that match is one of six for CFC that is during the 30-day suspension period that lasts through April 10. CFC, which made its professional debut Feb. 29 in California with a 1-1 draw against Oakland Roots SC and has not played since, is scheduled to play April 11 at Detroit City FC.
"The closest thing in sports we have seen to this, but a completely different scenario, was the September 11 tragedy," CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh said. "No one has been through this scenario before. You have to take the fans, players and public's health seriously, and the league doing this was the best decision for everybody's safety.
"One thing that sports always has done is find a way to bring people together. We are going to fight this off and combat this as a country. I have no doubt that sports will play a role in bringing things back to normalcy."
Starting Wednesday afternoon, professional and college sports leagues in the United States began suspending seasons and canceling events, with few competitions still on the schedule by Thursday afternoon as even high school association began to recommend taking a break from play. Chattanooga's two pro soccer teams joined that growing group with a focus on keeping players, staff and spectators safe and healthy as COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remains a global concern.
"We were looking forward to playing, but if you look around the world and what has happened with the NBA and other leagues, we were starting to assume it would happen to us, too," CFC captain and standout midfielder Juan Hernandez said. "It's hard to believe, but we have to trust this is the best decision for everyone and their health."
NISA's news release said the league "will use this time to monitor this situation in consultation with medical experts and in consideration of the guidelines being put forth by local governments, public health officials and the CDC to determine next steps for moving forward with safe protocol.
"We are committed to being as transparent as possible as this rapidly evolving situation develops and more information becomes available. At the appropriate time, we will provide updates and plans for the continuation of the 2020 spring season. We wish everyone health and wellness."
In a release on the USL League One website, USL CEO Alec Papadakis said the decision was made by consulting with "local, state and national health authorities, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security."
"The health and safety of our fans, guests, players and staff will always be paramount," Sean McDaniel, president and general manager of Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, said in a news release. "We will continue to remain vigilant and follow the guidance of our local, state and national health authorities."
Both Chattanooga teams will continue to practice, and both are scheduled to play in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which had not postponed any matches as of Thursday evening. The Red Wolves are set to host Birmingham Legion at David Stanton Field on April 7, and CFC is at Memphis 901 FC on April 8.
The Red Wolves' first chance to resume league play would be April 18 at North Texas SC. Their league home opener and first match at CHI Memorial Stadium is set for April 25 against the Richmond Kickers.