The high-scoring Chattanooga Football Club has a chance to win their first trophy as a professional club on Saturday night against Soda City FC. While CFC has a chance to win the Independent Cup with a victory, their coach said he still wants to tinker with the lineup, if ever so slightly.
“We believe that we’re going to open August 8 in NISA play, so we’re basically nine days away,” CFC coach Peter Fuller said after practice.
“Certainly, there have been two or three guys who have been terrific who haven’t been regulars for us in the past, and those are guys that I want to try and make sure we get 30, 45, or 60 minutes Saturday night to see how they mix with the core group.”
The boys in blue have netted three goals apiece in the club’s two games since returning from hiatus, with Brian Bement and Ian McGrath contributing three each over the course of the entire year.
“There’s a little competition, but it’s mostly for fun,” forward Brian Bement said. “We both just want to put goals in the back of the net, so whoever does that, if we win games, we’re happy. We’ve been working hard in training finishing our chances when we’re out here. That’s translating during the games, which is good.”
“I really like playing with Ian, because I know whenever I make a run he can make a run too, and vice versa. As a result, we’ve been able to score goals and set each other up.”
Ian McGrath is a shot-happy midfielder, but he said defense, as it often is, was an area of emphasis during practice. Over the last month, Coach Fuller has consistently mentioned the importance of the midfield three playing and moving as a cohesive unit when not in possession of the ball.
“Over this past week, we’ve really been working on shape and shifting as a block,” McGrath said. “It’s good to see pictures, and that’s what we’ve been going over this week. Seeing those pictures and going over the movements and where we should be. I think this week has been very good for us defensively, and we’re starting to gel and get our responsibilities and jobs figured out.”
Coach Fuller said the team’s quick starts are obviously welcomed (three of their goals have been scored within the first 20 minutes), the team needs to find a way to break out of midgame lethargy that often creeps in after these early scores. He said that while an empty Finley Stadium and the absence of supporters play a role in this, the team’s demanding 3-5-2 also contributes.
“In the system that we’re playing, which is a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2, the wide players are running between seven and 11 miles a game,” said coach Fuller. “So you can train all you want to, but the game is different. Particularly when you’re defending for long stretches, because running is more difficult when you’re defending.”
Chief marketing officer Owen Seaton and coach Fuller both said the decision to not have fans in the stands came after discussions with the city of Chattanooga and Finley Stadium. Tennessee recently surpassed 100,000 COVID cases.
“What I know, and I don’t know a lot because I’m a soccer coach and not a politician, is that it was a joint decision between the city and club out of an abundance of caution with everything that’s going on,” coach Fuller said. “We can read the newspapers and websites and everything else and see we’ve had a big spike in terms of COVID-19.”
While CFC’s players have not had the benefit of a raucous crowd to energize them, the players have used each other to put a pep in their steps.
“Everyone is encouraging everybody in the locker room,” said McGrath. “We’ve got the music going and the vibes are high, and on the field we just need to feed off of everyone else’s energy.”
Coach Fuller referred to the Independent Cup as an important step forward for the club, even if the tournament is in some ways a second preseason. While CFC rolled up NPSL Southeast conference titles with regularity, bigger and better trophies eluded them.
“One of the things we feel is a burden for the guys in the past to try and start winning some things,” said coach Fuller. “I don’t know if you’re truly a great club until you start winning things consistently. Not just division championships, but regional and national championships. For us we feel a burden for the Bill Elliott’s of the world and the players who have played here and have been so close, but never gotten over the hump.”