Big progress fast

Big progress fast

CFC has come far in a year and a half

July 27th, 2010 by John Frierson in Sports

Conributed Photo by Tony Quinn - The Chattanooga FC plays against DC United.

Conributed Photo by Tony Quinn - The Chattanooga...

It was just under 18 months ago that the decision was made by a group of local businessmen and soccer enthusiasts to start a soccer team in Chattanooga.

"Krue (Brock) literally showed up at the front door of my office and said, 'Hey, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think?'" recalled Chattanooga Football Club general manager Sean McDaniel. "I said sure, let's try it."

Chattanooga FC was created in February 2009. Last Saturday, a year and a half later, the team was playing in RFK Stadium in Washington. That evening, after CFC played D.C. United's Under-20 team, several of CFC's board members met with executives from United and Volkswagen, the title sponsor for both teams.

McDaniel and Tim Kelly visited with United general manager Dave Kasper, primarily discussing ways to get the MLS team to Chattanooga for a game next year.

"I think we were able to move from thoughts and ideas to actual planning stages," McDaniel said. "The short answer we got was, 'Yes, we'd like to make that happen on some level.' We were very, very encouraged by the fact that they are happy to try to make that happen."

Board member Sheldon Grizzle was in the VW Lounge at RFK, visiting with Volkswagen Group of America interim CEO Michael Lohscheller and COO Mark Barnes, who gladly donned the CFC jerseys Grizzle gave them.

"That was just a pretty surreal experience," Grizzle said, "standing there overlooking the Portsmouth-D.C. United game and getting to interact with two of the most well-respected people in the auto industry in North America.

"It's a far cry from where we ever hoped to be two years, or a year and a half, into it."

From the start the club's founders had high expectations for the on-the-field product, and they needed to field a quality team from the start to generate credibility, Grizzle said. CFC went 4-3-1 in its first season and finished second in the National Premier Soccer League's Southeast Conference.

The team also was a hit locally, averaging more than 2,000 fans a game at Finley Stadium.

"To me it is amazing," Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein said of CFC's accomplishments in its first two seasons.

Chattanooga FC "did sort of catch lightning in a bottle" during its first season, Kelly said. If so, CFC caught and held on to it, because in every way possible the club's second season has topped its first.

The team opened this season with an exhibition win over the under-23 team from FĂștbol Club Atlas of Guadalajara, Mexico, in front of an announced crowd of 6,317 at Finley. It was a sign of things to come as CFC averaged more than 4,000 fans a game for its five home games.

CFC went 6-0-2 in league play to win the Southeast Conference and advance to the NPSL Final Four. On Thursday, CFC will play against the Madison (Wis.) 56ers in Madison, Ala., just outside Huntsville.

"If you could see where we were in February of 2009," McDaniel said, "... we really did not have any idea that we would have evolved to this so quickly. ... We were like, if we can get 500 people to a game and get some good talent in here that can enjoy summer soccer at Finley, we'd feel like we succeeded. And I think we can now all say that it's been much more than that."

Courtney out

Chattanooga FC will play Thursday without one of its top defenders - Russell Courtney, who suffered a serious knee injury against D.C. United. Courtney is the third CFC player to be lost for the season due to injury, joining forward Chris Ochieng (ankle) and defender Tim Sparks (hamstring).