The 2021 season could have gone drastically different for Chattanooga Red Wolves coach Jimmy Obleda.
Coming off a 6-4-5 record, the club chose to basically flip the roster, bringing in almost an entirely new group with some holdovers, one being Chattanooga native and former Bryan College standout Jonathan Ricketts.
In his second season with the club, Ricketts had four goals and four assists in 27 matches, playing the right back position for the club.
"I think the turnover on the roster made a lot of people nervous, but we know that coach (Obleda) is a good recruiter, and he brings in really good players and has some good connections," Ricketts said late last week. "When we got all the guys in preseason, things were already looking really good, and we knew this team had a lot of potential."
Obleda called Ricketts "a professional" who is "indispensable on this team."
"At this level, everyone is a good soccer player, so it's the little things that make the difference," Obleda said. "Last year, we threw him in at a position he'd never played before and he's grown into arguably one of the best right backs in the league."
The team's results ultimately haven't been perfect, but the Red Wolves have given themselves a chance to claim a USL League One championship in year three. The team earned the No. 3 seed and will have a home game Saturday against North Texas SC (10-8-10) at 7 at CHI Memorial Stadium.
It's one final home match, but it's a disappointing end to a regular season that held so much promise, one highlighted by a 15-match non-loss streak midway through the year. The Red Wolves were in a race for a top-two seed (and an automatic bye into the semifinals) as late as Saturday night, but dropped a 2-1 road decision at Forward Madison to fall to 11-6-11 on the year. It was the club's fourth loss in its final eight matches.
Now, the road is quite a bit more difficult. A win this Saturday would mean a trip to face Greenville Triumph SC (12-7-9) next week, with a win there potentially meaning another road trip in the championship match on Nov. 20.
But the club has shown enough improvement to give themselves a chance. If they can recapture that midseason form — which included six wins and nine draws — there's no reason the Red Wolves can't be playing in the final match of the season.
"This could have gone many ways," Obleda said. "I believe in the type of player that we bring in and the type of player that we look to bring in and that's why I think that identity, that DNA, that hunger is something we value so much and I think these guys are so hungry that the soccer's almost secondary to the mentality of winning the day, to being down with a minute left and still having hope. That's not something you can teach.
"I think for the city and for what we're trying to build here, to have this group and identify so much with the city and I think the city identifies with them. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, so I'd like to consider myself lucky in the players I brought in."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.