The scorching sun may have been roasting Finley Stadium under the cloudless sky, but Chattanooga Football Club’s players were calm and cool in their practice before CFC’s landmark match against Real Betis. Players bantered back and forth as they went about their warmups and drills.
Coach Bill Elliott saw Saturday’s match as a great opportunity for the team to improve, saying, “It’s just business as usual for us. We understand they’re a giant in European soccer. The preparation for this game will help us for our match in 10 days.”
He was acutely aware of how overmatched his squad is against Betis, a member of the highest division of Spanish soccer (also known as La Liga), but he still expected his team to play hard.
“We just hope to slow them down a little bit,” said coach Elliott, “They’re far more elite than any MLS team.”
Defender Jordan Dunstan wasn’t sure about how he and the defense were going to go about slowing down world-class players like Giovani Lo Celso or Joaquin, saying “I don’t know. We just have to focus on winning our individual battles.”
Dunstan also spoke on the great opportunity that playing against Real Bettis presented for the players on the team.
“It’s big. If boys on the team play well, then doors open up for them to play in higher leagues. It’s a great opportunity.”
Despite being a striker on the team, Max Wilschrey gave his thoughts on how CFC could slow the La Liga giants.
“We have to stay compact, and run a lot. We need to shift side to side. And we need to give them no space.”
Wilschrey also spoke at length about the uniqueness of the event, saying, “It’s a huge opportunity. Every child dreams of playing for their country, and they have players who have played for national teams.”
Attacking midfielder Caleb Cole echoed his teammates' sentiments about the opportunity to play Real Betis, noting that many MLS teams do not have the chance to play against a team from La Liga, much less squads from Chattanooga’s division.
Real Betis became the first Spanish team since 2002-03 to defeat both Real Madrid and Barcelona at home in the same season, a fact repeated several times by multiple players and coach Elliot.
But with a smile, coach Elliot also made sure to point out one key fact.
“None of our goalkeepers have ever given up a goal to a La Liga team,” he said in a joking manner, before trotting toward the center of the pitch, ready to help his team prepare for the biggest match in Chattanooga Football Club’s 10-year history.
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The trip will mark the first time the Spanish team will play in the US in their 112-year history.
Real Betis is based in Seville, Spain, and capped their La Liga season with a win against famed Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Sunday. The club became the first team since 2002 to beat Barcelona at Camp Nou and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the same season.
Today (Wednesday) Real Betis was taking on Wayne Rooney and DC United at Audi Stadium in Washington D.C. b
Tickets are on sale now at cfctix.com for $30 in advance, $40 on the day of the game. They can also be purchased at Carniceria Loa in Chattanooga and Loa Bakery in Dalton.