Clayton Adams could not have drawn up a better debut for his Chattanooga Football Club career.
Just five minutes after being subbed into a 1-1 affair with the New York Cosmos on Saturday night at Finley Stadium, the 25-year-old midfielder provided what was perhaps Chattanooga FC's biggest moment during its National Independent Soccer Association fall season to that point.
Adams sprinted down the right sideline for CFC's attack, cut his way past several defenders to the middle of the field and, while still in full stride, used his left foot to connect with the ball some 25 yards away from the goal. The shot bulleted into the upper left corner of the net in the 82nd minute for what turned out to be the decisive score of a 2-1 victory, a result secured against a familiar foe and with fans at a CFC home game for the first time this year.
He was soon lifted by teammates as they danced to the welcome tune of the Chattahooligans' drumline, which was making its 2020 debut in a CFC season drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Afterward, Adams was named the man of the match in his first appearance for CFC after signing this past winter.
A native of Slidell, Louisiana, Adams played last year for Austin Bold FC of the USL Championship, but he was familiar with CFC after playing in 2018 for the Georgia Revolution FC. The McDonough team competes in the National Premier Soccer League, which counted CFC among its membership before the Chattanooga club moved to the professional ranks this year as part of the NISA.
The Cosmos made a parallel move, and it has helped maintain a rivalry that includes the 2015 NPSL national championship game. CFC lost that match 3-2 in extra time in front of 18,227 at Finley Stadium.
"I could tell right away that this win means a lot to the team," Adams said. "We have several guys on this team who have been through a lot with this club and played in the 2015 game against New York, and to hear them talk about how much it means to beat the Cosmos at Finley is a blessing.
"Beating them really helps our confidence as a team as well, because we proved we can do it. Saturday night's game ranks the highest in terms of my all-time moments as a soccer player. It was the club's first win against the Cosmos as well as my debut and first goal with the team."
The highlight also drew attention on social media, but Adams was humble about his role as a reserve who struck quickly.
"We have plenty of guys who are capable of stuff like that at any moment," he said. "From the starters down to the squad players, every player can provide for the team. Every single player on our roster is capable of something spectacular."
On Wednesday night, coach Peter Fuller's team beat New Amsterdam FC 3-0 to finish first in the NISA Eastern Conference standings for the fall regular season. Veteran striker Zeca Ferraz scored in the ninth and 53rd minutes against the team from New York state to aid a clean sheet provided by keeper Alec Reddington, who made back-to-back saves in the 25th minute. Sean Hoffstatter scored in the 73rd minute.
CFC is now 6-1 overall (5-0 at Finley Stadium) since returning to competition July 11. CFC's only other match this year before the pandemic shut down competition was its professional and NISA debut on the last day of February, a 1-1 draw in California against Oakland Roots SC, which this week announced its move to the USL Championship for the 2021 season.
Ahead for CFC is the NISA fall tournament, an eight-team event that kicks off Monday with the title game scheduled for Oct. 2. Round-robin play will set up a bracket that begins with the semifinals, and all tournament games will be played at Keyworth Stadium in the Detroit area.
NISA's ultimate plan is for the league's fall tournament winner to host the spring 2021 champion to determine a 2020-21 season champ.