It was not the most beautiful of performances, but Chattanooga FC advanced to the NISA semifinals after their 1-1 draw against Cal United.
With captain Juan Herandez out of the starting lineup, Darwin Lom took on even more attacking responsibility. The team’s first and only goal was a typical CFC attack, with Lom starting with the ball on the left sideline during the counterattack. Rather than stay there, Lom cut back inside, drawing Cal United’s attention.
Instead of letting one loose from far away, Lom looked for a teammate.
In this case, that teammate was Brian Bement, who scored three goals in the Independence Cup back in August. As Lom made his move infield, Bement cut toward the goal on the left wing. Lom made a pinpoint through ball to CFC’s striker, who just needed to control the ball.
And control the ball he did, with the forward shooting a low drive to the far right post. The keeper never had a chance to deflect the shot, and CFC had the early lead in the 12th minute. Unfortunately for Chattanooga, this lead did not last forever.
While CFC was more than happy to play defensively and go direct whenever they had the ball, Cal United went for a more slow-paced style. With midfielder Evan Waldrep controlling the action, Cal United seemed comfortable pinging the ball around the final third. Many of his passes went to striker Omar Nuno, who used his size to carve out space in the box.
While defenders Nick Spielman and Shaun Russell did an admirable job smacking away attempts by Nuno for the first half hour, the defense finally cracked a few minutes later.
In the 32nd minute, Waldrep took what was either a very low shot, or a skillfully guided shot in a diagonal pattern to his left. On the other end of this shot/pass was Nuno, who had the simple task of tapping the ball into the goal. CFC keeper Alec Reddington never had a chance to save, and Cal United equalized.
Chattanooga FC ratcheted up the pressure in the second half. Juan Hernandez and Ian McGrath rejuvenated the midfield, and while Nuno still had a few chances, CFC did a much better job of retaining possession.
For the Chattanooga-based team, they did not lack for shot attempts in the second half. Whether it be Bement or Lom, Chattanooga had a litany of chances to take a 2-1 lead. However, the majority of their tries were deflected by a stingy Cal United back line. Or when CFC would get a solid shot past the initial defense, the ball never could quite get past the keeper.
In the end though Chattanooga did not convert their chances, the surges did serve a purpose. By retaining possession and forcing Cal United to play in CFC’s final third, Nuno and Waldrep’s careful and methodical movements were somewhat nullified. While CFC seemed built to play in the open field, Cal United was much more comfortable patiently attacking against a set defense, and did not look as comfortable having to push the ball up the pitch in a hurry.
Chattanooga FC’s opponent in the semifinals is yet to be determined.