One of the questions Chattanooga Football Club general manager Sean McDaniel most often gets is what else is there for the Scenic City’s premier amateur soccer team albeit one of the country’s top amateur clubs as well.
A brisk but sunny Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium provided him an answer for the time being.
CFC stood toe-to-toe with visiting Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas club in a true “pros versus joes” battle to earn a 1-1 tie before the usual raucous home crowd of 4,873 to kick off the 2018 campaign that promises to be exciting.
“I get it every year: What else is there, well, this must be what is next.
The only thing left to do now is to bring a national championship back here,” said an ecstatic McDaniel moments after the draw.
CFC’s Zeca Ferraz header to the far post off a Jauquin Cabello cross in the 42nd minute of the first half tied the score at Fort Finley and the two clubs each missed out on some opportunities in the second half of the early-season friendly to send the crowd home warm and happy.
“I can’t put it into words,” beamed Ferraz, the native Brazlian midfielder who has made Chattanooga his home. “They don’t deserve anything more than we do. Our dreams are the same as their dreams, and coach had us in the right mindset to play this game.”
CFC head coach Bill Elliott was both appreciative of the professional opponent and the effort his guys waged with just two practices under their belt.
“First off, we’re just grateful to Dallas for giving us this opportunity by playing a lower level squad such as us. It’s just such a great way to start our tenth season. We’ve played for a national title at Red Bull Arena against the Cosmos, we played Atlanta United in their inaugural game and then do this. It’s just another thread in the fabric of building this club to the brand we are trying to put together,” Elliott said after the game.
CFC got its first taste of MLS professional soccer in that opening friendly against Atlanta United last season in what turned out to be a 4-0 loss, but it set the foundation for Saturday'’s surprising tie.
“Oh absolutely,” admitted Ferraz. “The experience of playing Atlanta last year even though we didn’t win helped us today.”
FC Dallas, with a preseason game already under its belt and several weeks of practice, should have been enough to carry the day, but adding in the fact it was still a professional sports club against an amateur club made the outcome all the more amazing for the home side.
Elliott spoke with FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele after the match and got confirmation as to how well his CFC squad had played.
“Tesho played at a small Division II college so he appreciated the role of being the underdog. He realizes what a lot of guys are going through to make it the next level because he has been there and he was very complimentary of the organization,” Elliott said.
The match began slowly for CFC as it tried to familiarize itself with some new teammates and knock the rust off the offseason. The two practices had been more of set in putting together a strategy to play the MLS squad, and it paid off in the end.
FC Dallas stayed on the offensive for most of the first half, but the CFC backline did an outstanding job avoiding any trouble until an innocent enough free kick got them on the board in the 32nd minute. FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges timed his run perfectly and got just the slightest of touches with his right foot on Mauro Diaz 30-yard free kick. The touch was just enough to trickle the ball into the far corner of the net past a frozen CFC keeper Humberto Palaez.
CFC answered, though, just before the half. Jauquin Cabello worked free from his defender and got off a cross towards the box. Ferraz was able to react to it, rising above the defense to bullet a head shot past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer from close range for the equalizer.
“I saw Jauquin on my left and he’s usually so good from there with his touches and I just tried to anticipate. I was able to jump over the defender and get my head on it, but honestly, I don’t even remember the ball going in. For us to be tied at 1-1 at that point was something, but we had to go back out with the same mindset for the final half, and I think we did,” said Ferraz.
FC Dallas, pulled all but one of its starters for the final half, giving the reserves equal playing time as both clubs were as much interested in seeing what they will have to work with.
“This is pretty much the roster we will have,” said McDaniel. “Our guys were phenomenal. Our opponent gave us a great opportunity and took a chance playing here. This is just a great way to get things started.”
FC Dallas missed a couple of great chances in the final half. Brandon Servania got a ball in the middle of the pitch but his 20-yarder sailed high over the cross bar in the 62nd minute. Tesho Akindele stoles a pass and fed to Roland Lamah, but his pass at the back of the post just slipped past Cristian Colman on what was a golden opportunity missed.
CFC nearly got one of its own when David Perez attacked from long distance, but Maurer made a diving save to his left to push the attempt over the crossbar to force a corner kick. FC Dallas had one last attack for the win at the 88th minute, but Tesho sailed it high over the crossbar and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
CFC will host new United Soccer League member Nashville FC on March 10 at 7:30 p.m. in their next outing.
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)