Where did Tate Robertson go?
The Los Angeles Force’s defender must have wondered that as the CFC winger made magic on Finley Stadium's artificial turf. Robertson dashed down the right sideline, and then began to retreat when his defender caught up. But like former Hawk Steve Smith back in the day, Robertson suddenly deked back to the touchline after selling the retreat. He completely shook his defender and had acres of space to make a pass.
He crossed in a low ball to Cam “Bubbles” Woodfin, who wasn’t going to let this chance slip by.
He easily got the shot past the keeper, shooting left as he drifted right. The once-shaky CFC now had a 2-1 lead, as the team once on the defensive were now sending players forward with supreme confidence. Chattanooga FC would not relinquish that lead, and came away with a 4-1 win in their first game of the NISA Legend’s Cup.
“As soon as I saw him beat the guy, I knew I had to go near-post and try to make something happen, and it was a great move in,” Woodfin said. “He’s a tricky guy and he practices that move all the time. He’s always trying little flicks and moves so he can make things happen, especially in wide spaces.”
Only a minute had gone by in the game when CFC was faced with their first real test. After regaining possession of the ball, Juan Hernandez tried to pass the ball out of trouble, but goalscoring extraordinaire Chandler Hoffman picked the pass off and fired a shot toward goal. Fortunately for the CFC fans in attendance, and those watching on TV, keeper Phil D’Amico saved it.
Unfortunately for those same fans, Chandler Hoffman made the most out of his next shot on goal. He took in a pass from deep and split CFC’s back line. Hoffman gathered his wits, evaded the defense, and shot the ball low and to his left for an early Los Angeles Force goal with only 5:40 gone in the first half. It was a rough start for a CFC defense missing starters Richard Dixon and Shaun Russell, both recovering from recent injuries.
“We got two healthy center backs, so we had to play a 4-3-3, and we only worked on it twice in practice, and it showed early on,” coach Peter Fuller said.
Chattanooga FC did muster some threatening attacks early on, most of them involving a penetrative pass to winger Markus Naglestad on the left wing. The newcomer had a slick low cross in to Bement, but the ball got muddled up in the cramped box and the scoring chance came and went. Later on in the 14th minute, shot-happy midfielder Ian McGrath found space inside and unleashed a volley some 15 yards away from the box, but that shot hit the woodwork and bounced harmlessly away. It was an unfortunate outcome for a player coach Fuller said “put in a great shift tonight.”
At the 22:15 mark in the game, CFC’s Naglestad blasted another ball after being awarded a free kick, and LA’s keeper used his fisted hand to bounce the ball away. His clearance shot straight up in the air rather than away from the woodwork, and captain Juan Hernandez seemed to be the only one who had the awareness to scurry in and chest the ball into the net for CFC’s first goal.
“I think he’s getting better with age,” coach Fuller said about Hernandez. “I think he’s playing the best soccer he’s ever played. He’s always willing to adjust depending on the opponent and what we’ve asked him to do.”
Winger Tate Robertson showed off his speed and guile on the right wing when he dazzled his defender and fans about 30 minutes into the match. After his aforementioned move and Cam Woodfin goal, CFC gained the lead and firmly established Chattanooga’s offensive superiority.
His team now hotter than the Louisiana Hot Sauce on the front of their kits, Markus Naglestad continued his fine half simply by being in the right place at the right time in the 40th minute. After CFC’s first few shots after another good counter were deflected, the ball bounced to the left. Naglestad was well-placed and alert, and quickly put back the rebound for CFC’s third goal of the game.
“Markus’s a good pro, and he proved it tonight and I’m really happy for him,” coach Fuller said. “It’s been a tough transition for him here, and he really got the monkey off his back tonight.”
This gave CFC a 3-1 lead going into halftime, with Chattanooga’s new mayor-elect and former CFC chairman Tim Kelly watching from the supporter’s section as one of 1,200 or so supporters who attended in-person. The crowd was loud not only following goals, but also after great clearances and passing combinations.
“This is my fifth year, so support like this was normal until last year,” Woodfin said. “It feels amazing, especially to get a goal in front of our first game of the season.”
The LA Force mounted a few spirited attacks after halftime, and CFC seemed much more content to sit back and protect their two-goal lead after returning from the halftime break. However, in the 65th minute, CFC again hit them on the counter to get a fourth goal, courtesy of Shaun “Hot Sauce” Hoffstatter. The attacker got his first shot blocked by a pair of LA Force defenders. But undaunted by the small setback, he corralled the rebound and popped the ball past the defense and keeper for CFC’s fourth score.
Chattanooga FC truly was satisfied with that three goal cushion after that, and spent the rest of the game happy to sit back and park the blue bus for the next 15 or so minutes. Aside from an LA Force red card and a few unnecessary fouls, CFC cruised to a sublime victory. They’ll have a few days off before they play a well-rested New Amsterdam side on Friday at 8:00.
“I think that sometimes you have to fail before you succeed,” coach Fuller said, referencing CFC’s winless preseason against tough teams. “It was good for us to find out who we were and what we are, and what we can become. Today was a good start in that process of finding out what we can become.”
You can contact the author at Joseph.A.Dycus@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @joseph_dycus .