The Chattanooga Red Wolves' chances of playing for the USL League One title have grown ever smaller with just three matches remaining in the regular season and their streak of losses at three after Wednesday afternoon's 3-1 setback at home against North Texas SC.
The Red Wolves (5-5-3), whose slump follows a five-match unbeaten streak, have 18 points and are fourth in the standings from which only two teams will make the postseason. In its inaugural 2019 season, Chattanooga contended but fell short of being one of four teams that made the playoffs.
In the loss to North Texas (4-3-5), Chattanooga was missing multiple key players due to injury, and it's probable that after this month — the Red Wolves at least have matches remaining at Orlando on Saturday, against Forward Madison FC at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge on Oct. 17 and at Richmond on Oct. 24 — the roster will under undergo typical offseason turnover.
Still, first-year coach Jimmy Obleda is thinking about what he wants the Red Wolves to be like year in and year out, and that didn't change Wednesday despite the outcome.
Greg Hurst scored his team-leading sixth goal of the season on a penalty kick in the 24th minute, but North Texas tied two minutes later, then scored again early in the second half to lead for the final 40-plus minutes.
"For us to build our culture, we need to keep building with guys that regardless of if we're down one goal or two goals, they're going to play the same way," Obleda said. "And they're going to go, and they're not going to be scared to fail. So we look, we assess and keep moving forward — culture wasn't built overnight."
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic delaying and shortening the USL League One schedule, Obleda has had time to observe and the Red Wolves have had time to show they can compete. The next step is developing the consistency needed to compete for a title.
"Team cultures weren't built overnight," Obleda said. "I'm confident in what the staff is doing and what we're building, and I'm confident in the guys that are here and the ones that are staying and the ones they're going to bring in.
"As (former Michigan football coach) Bo Schembechler said once, 'Those who stay will win. Those who stay will be successful.' So we're going to be all right. It's just a loss, and there's still a lot to play for and a lot to live for."