By any standard, the Chattanooga Football Club had about as successful a season as one could have hoped for in the topsy-turvy year that was 2020. As the top side in their conference, CFC won the Independent Cup in the shortened preseason, and then made it midway through the NISA playoffs after the regular season. While COVID-19 forced the team and league to shut down for several months, and for the roster to be adjusted, often on the fly, the team still was competitive against all sides.
As the team looks forward to beginning play in 2021, many familiar faces return. Perhaps the most important position on the pitch is goalkeeper, where incumbent Alec Reddington became the starter by necessity and improved his play as the season went on. Coach Fuller says whoever he brings in will compete for the job, although he emphasized it is Reddington’s job to lose.
“His shot-stopping ability is excellent, but his starting position on crosses and balls from wide positions is not the best, so we need to see improvement there,” Fuller says. “He’s excellent with both feet, but some of his decision making is where we need to see some improvement, so those are the main things.”
In front of whoever wins the goalkeeper spot will be the three central defenders and two wingbacks in CFC’s 3-5-2. Richard Dixon, Cameron Woodfin, and Ryan Marcano should all be able to play the wings, and coach Fuller says Woodfin in particular may be more of a threat this season.
“Cam ended up being a jack of all trades for us last year, and he was injured a lot last year,” coach Fuller says. “I’d like to see him settle in and get into some scoring positions because he is a good finisher. I’d like to see a little more from him.”
The majority of the players announced so far fit in the midfield category, although that is slightly misleading. A player like Alec McKinley and Kyle Carr are adept at dropping back to reinforce the backline, while Ian McGrath and Topher Marshall are almost-forward like at times.
Veteran Juan Hernandez is back for another season with the club, and should continue to provide killer through-balls and playmaking from deep positions. McGrath was a shot-happy attacking mid last year, and coach Fuller says that he can bag even more goals with just a few tweaks to his game.
“I think Ian can score more goals in the flow of play if he changes how he plays a little bit by staying more central and not being pulled into wide positions,” coach Fuller says. “If he’s willing to do that, I think he gets into some great positions out of the flow of play, especially when the ball is out wide.”
CFC lost club legend Zeca to retirement, and returning forwards Brian Bement and Sean ‘Hot Sauce’ Hoffstatter will be counted upon to replace his production. Bement was a machine early in the year, but a leg injury midway through halted his goal-scoring production.
“I thought Hoff’s coming out party was that game against the Cosmos at home,” coach Fuller says. “I thought he was magnificent that night and carried that on through the bubble. So I’d like to see him pick up where he left off, not just with the goalscoring, but his overall play.”
“Bement, the poor guy, was playing great and then he did his knee wrong the week of the Michigan Stars game, and never really got back. I would love to see him back and fully fit and healthy. He’s a really good and smart player who is a great team guy.”
As mentioned earlier, Chattanooga FC will continue to play primarily out of the 3-5-2/5-3-2, where the midfield acts as a “screen of sorts” between the backline and forwards. Coach Fuller addressed concerns about CFC being too narrow in attack.
“Anytime you play 3-5-2, you’re taking two wide players outside and moving them inside, so you only have two guys providing the width, so you’re always going to be fighting that battle,” coach Fuller says. “Having said that, I think we’ve got some pretty good attacking options that will give us some good service from wide areas. And when we do go 4-3-3, I think that enhances that even more.”
After allowing a few fans into Finley Stadium toward the end of last year, coach Fuller says he hopes fans are able to come out and support the team this season.
“We’re super excited about getting back to Finley and are praying we can put people in the stands, and hoping that last season was a building block for us,” coach Fuller says. “Not just in terms of on the field, but getting the family back together. That’s the big thing we’re hoping for.”
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org