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Staff file photo by Mark Kennedy / The Chattanooga Red Wolves have averaged 2,280 fans through eight home matches this season at CHI Memorial Stadium. The East Ridge venue and the mixed-use development being built in conjunction are still in progress.

Chattanooga Red Wolves general manager Sean McDaniel and director of business operations Mitch Martino stood inside CHI Memorial Stadium's executive club Wednesday evening, gazing out at the field where the team's USL League One match against the Charlotte Independence was about to kick off.

Across the way at the soccer stadium that will eventually have a capacity of 5,000 was an unfinished portion where locker rooms and more seating will be located. For now, there's just an open space through which Interstate 75 South passersby can see the East Ridge venue that opened in August 2020. The progress. The scoreboard.

"I think there's a great marketing element that as you drive up and down 75 every day, it's like, 'What's going on at the stadium? What's going on at the gateway?', and you can literally see it coming up out of the ground," McDaniel said. "I like the idea that you can drive by here and really see what's new out there. But it's coming.

"Selfishly, I can't wait until we get the other part of the stadium done and we can pack this thing out with 5,000 fans."

Eventually, the site will not only be the playing home of the Red Wolves and the Lady Red Wolves — who are now in the USL W League after two successful seasons in the Women's Premier Soccer League — but the real home to others as part of a mixed-use development championed by team owner Bob Martino.

There seemed to be a parallel of sorts in that, as the progress of the stadium slowed a bit, so did the Red Wolves early this season in their fourth year of competition. But just as there is room for growth and improvement in all areas regarding the team and its home site, there is also optimism.

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Photo by Keeling Kennedy / Chattanooga Red Wolves defender Jonathan Guadarrama, right, makes quick work of a Central Valley Fuego FC counterattack during a USL League One match on May 14 at CHI Memorial Stadium.

On the field, the Red Wolves appear to have turned a corner by following a three-game losing streak with two consecutive wins. The most recent was Wednesday's 7-1 beatdown of Charlotte in which Chattanooga improved to 5-6-2 overall this season and 5-5-2 in league play while setting a USL League One single-match record for goals scored (not bad for a team that had eight goals over its previous six matches).

Chattanooga is second in the league standings with 17 points — one behind Richmond (5-4-3) — and the homestand will continue with Saturday's 7:30 p.m. match against FC Tucson (2-6-2).

In addition to building a stadium and what they hope is a championship-caliber team for the long haul, the Red Wolves are building a brand. Head coach Jimmy Obleda estimated there were a couple hundred fans in attendance at the team's June 11 match against Central Valley Fuego FC in Fresno, California. Chattanooga routinely has a few dozen fans in attendance at away games, and the club has averaged 2,280 fans through eight home matches in 2022.

"There's a Red Wolves movement," Obleda, a California native who had family and friends in attendance, said Wednesday night. "In Fresno, people made that sacrifice to drive up there, stay in hotels, get gas at $8 a gallon. So we take it to heart now that the team is coming together. We know we owe it to our families, we owe it to our supporters, wherever they come and support us, to leave everything on the field for them.

"But the Red Wolves movement is real, man. It's real."

And it only furthers the importance of the development of both the team and the facility.

The residential area is a work is progress, along with the retail areas and eateries, but it will eventually enhance the expansion of CHI Memorial Stadium, which has already become a top attraction.

"When we first launched this thing, it was really just getting professional soccer in Chattanooga. Something that has never been here before," McDaniel said. "So when you have the foundation of professional sports, everything started with doing something first in the city, which was have professional soccer here. As it evolved, it became as much about the entertainment value that people get, it became about how do we run a profitable business and the profitable sporting business and all the ancillary elements that come with that.

"As the footprint expands, so does the growth of the business. The accessibility of the product is global at the click of the button. Chattanooga is first and foremost where our growth remains to be, but as the product expands into other areas of the country, all it does it strengthen the branding of the Chattanooga Red Wolves. Everything we do on a global level puts the spotlight right back here on the Scenic City, and I think that's a benefit for all involved."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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