Chattanooga FC’s first foray into the NISA playoff bubble was a success. They started their title march by stomping the LA Force, a team coach Peter Fuller called “perhaps the most complete team out of anybody” in the tournament. Darwin Lom and Sean “Hot Sauce” Hoffstatter both scored, but the Alec Reddington-led defense was also superb.
“Personally, I look at every game as a regular game,” Reddington said. “If I get too overwhelmed or down on myself, I don’t play well.
So I try to stay relaxed and take each game in stride.”
Perhaps their best defender, Richard Dixon, was subbed out in the 23rd minute with a noncontact injury. He gave an update on his condition during Wednesday’s press conference.
“I’m feeling alright, but am feeling a little sore,” Dixon said. “I’m feeling better today, and am looking forward to the rest of the tournament.”
Coach Fuller said Reddington’s great play has been a boon for Dixon and the rest of CFC’s fantastic backline. While they rarely make mistakes, Reddington’s ability to both play out of the back and stifle attacks gives CFC a margin for error teams with shakier goalkeeping do not enjoy.
“I think if you asked any 10 field players what they feel about having quality goalkeeping behind them, they’d say it’s a safety blanket,” coach Fuller said. “And it gives you confidence. You’re not worried about playing the ball back and that he’s going to make a mistake with it. And if you make a mistake, you know there’s a good chance he’s going to come in big for you.”
Tuesday’s match also saw the much-anticipated return of attacking midfielder Ian McGrath, who was dominant in Independence Cup play before sitting out most of the NISA season with injuries. Even though he wasn’t expected to play many minutes, McGrath impressed his coach in what was a surprise start.
“He was excellent, he was really good,” coach Fuller said. “Given the set of circumstances and having been out with a lower body injury, he was really good. We found out just before game-time that David Koloko wasn’t going to play. We didn’t intend to start Ian, but when David went out it forced us to rework a few things.”
Captain Juan Hernandez said that despite playing in a bubble, pregame routine did not change much for the first matchup. However, as CFC goes further into the playoffs, the difference between a normal road game and the bubble will become more pronounced.
“Our preparation was pretty much the same as an away game,” Hernandez said. “We travel, the next day is a training session, and then prepare for it like an away game. But everything changes a little bit now, since we’re in the hotel for longer and we don’t get to go back to our homes.”
CFC’s next match is Friday at 5:00 against none other than the New York Cosmos. A longtime rival of CFC, the team in blue recently bested the Cosmos 3-1 at Finley Stadium.
“When I play an opponent I’ve played before, it just gives me more confidence,” Reddington said. “We’ve gone through their team once already scouting-wise, and we’re happy we got the win. But going through a team again helps our backline and mids be defensively sound in the back and ready for whatever they have coming for us.”