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Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Markus Naglestad, a 31-year-old forward in his second season with CFC, said he "fell in love" with Chattanooga after arriving due in part to its opportunities for outdoors recreation. He scored four goals in Saturday's 5-1 win against Flower City Union in Rochester, N.Y.

When he signed with the Chattanooga Football Club in February 2021, Markus Naglestad didn't realize he was making his way to a city that completely vibes with his passion.

The 31-year-old forward from Norway loves the outdoors. Chattanooga's reputation in that regard led to it being voted Outside magazine's "Best Town Ever." And so the Scenic City has proven a great fit for Naglestad, even when he's not playing soccer.

"I didn't know anything about Chattanooga, and I can really say that I've been nothing but pleasantly surprised," he said this past week. "It's the perfect city for nature, for hiking, for just general scenery. I didn't know anything about it before I came, but I really fell in love with it after being here for a little bit."

As for when he is playing soccer, one thing the former MLS draft pick didn't have to get acclimated to in Chattanooga was scoring goals. Naglestad had 35 in his college career while playing for two NCAA programs — Division II's Bridgeport and then Division I's Providence — and has topped 20 goals three times in his professional career, most recently in 2019 in Norway.

Even as one of the senior members of Chattanooga FC's roster (only Juan Hernandez and Richard Dixon, both 32, are older), a skill is a skill, and that's been the case for Naglestad, who netted a goal in the Independent Cup last year before scoring four goals in the fall, tying for the team lead. Going into Saturday's match at Flower City Union, he had one goal this year while playing approximately 25 minutes per game in CFC's four National Independent Soccer Association matches.

Then in the 5-1 victory against Flower City in Rochester, New York — CFC improved to 2-1-1 against NISA competition and 3-2-1 overall this year — Naglestad exploded for four more scores, including three in the first half.

"I've always scored a lot of goals. I've had different responsibilities other than that as well," he said. "On this team, the way we play I'm probably more involved in goal scoring than other stuff. I've been more involved in the buildup in the past at other teams, given a little more responsibility, but I think it's something that comes with I'm not a young player anymore.

"You kind of learn where you're good at, and you're trying to do that as much as possible."

His experience has given him an opportunity to help get his current team acclimated to the professional ranks. After beginning play in 2009, CFC spent more than a decade as an amateur club — a span in which the team had a lot of early success before struggling to match that high level toward the end — but in 2020 began its pro era in the NISA.

The change hasn't always been easy for the club as, much like everyone else in the world, a lot of CFC's plans were slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in year three, the notable successes include a win over USL Championship club Memphis FC in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.

For CFC players and fans — some of them owners/investors as shareholders of team stock — the progress is rewarding.

"It's been a long journey for the club," Naglestad said. "I think they're making the right steps at the right pace. You see a lot of clubs kind of come in and all of a sudden go from nothing to big time, and this club is really doing it step by step, building brick by brick, and that's what I really like because it's unlike how American sports traditionally works.

"I really like it because it's very sustainable. It's not like you lose one investor and you're done. It's owned by the people, by the fans, and I think that's what makes this club special."

CFC returns to competition next Saturday at Finley Stadium with a 7:30 p.m. match against Bay Cities FC.

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

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