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Staff file photo / Joao Costa, right, is among the veteran players on the 2020 roster for Chattanooga FC, which had played just one match in its inaugural NISA season before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports in mid-March. CFC players will practice in small groups starting June 1.

Chattanooga Football Club players, who had their inaugural professional season in the National Independent Soccer Association halted by the coronavirus after one match, are heading back to practice June 1.

In what has become a "beggars can't be choosers" athletic landscape, the impending return is welcome despite multiple pandemic-related guidelines.

"The players who had left town to go be with family and loved ones are all back," CFC managing director Jeremy Alumbaugh said this past week, "and they are ready to get going. Everybody is ready to get going.

"It will be different, but everything is different right now."

CFC is scheduled to conduct its first several practices using groups of 10, even after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Friday that increases the number of people involved in recreational or social activities from 10 to 50. The CFC groups will include at least one coach and at least one medical staff member, so the player count likely will be seven or eight in each contingent.

Finley Stadium may not house all of CFC's practices, with high school fields and community fields serving as alternate possibilities, and Finley's locker rooms will remain closed.

"That will be a big change, because that's a big part of the experience," Alumbaugh said. "You like catching up with your teammates in the locker room on what you did the day before, and you like making fun of the rookies. The rookies like to make fun of the older guys.

"It's all part of the experience."

Alumbaugh said players will arrive at staggered times before their practices, and they will receive temperature checks and answer questionnaires upon their arrival.

By the middle of June, there may be a likelihood of larger practice groups provided there are no early setbacks. All 25 players could be sharing the same field at that point, but the workouts would still have an odd feel.

After all, stealing the ball from an opponent and obtaining possession is a basic element of the game.

"That's the big unknown — the return to contact and the return of being able to compete," Alumbaugh said. "I don't think we're too far away from it. By the end of June, I think we could be practicing a little more normally."

The NISA canceled its spring season, which has left CFC looking at the possibility of playing its next match in some sort of exhibition format that may not include spectators. Alumbaugh already foresees a post-pandemic world for CFC in which "air travel will be significantly decreased or eliminated," but beggars can't be choosers.

Especially when a return to practice is now days — and no longer weeks — away.

"These small-group practices will be a good first step, and we'll continue to progress," Alumbaugh said. "We're not going to rush anything. We will have a lot of safety precautions, and it will look way different, but we can't be more excited to get going."

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

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