Chattanooga FC made history on Saturday night as the club secured the 2023 NISA Regular Season title with a 2-0 over Flower City Union in Rochester, New York.
Markus Naglestad and Luis Garcia-Sosa made the difference as the boys in blue finalized their position atop the table.
Everyone in Chattanooga knew what was at stake entering the match: win the match, win the league. All that stood in the way was Rochester, New York’s Flower City Union.
The clubs had already faced off three times in 2023 with one of the lowest scoring series in NISA.
Chattanooga won twice by a score of 1-0 and drew once with no goals in the most recent encounter.
Flower City Union wanted at least a point to get a better hold on sixth place, with Club de Lyon looking to cash in on its games in hand to take the Union’s playoff spot in the coming weeks.
Head coach Rod Underwood meant business as he selected the lineup, fielding an eleven capable of beating any team in NISA.
The pace of the game started slow but there was no shortage of physicality from both sides with so much on the line. A bust up between the two teams in the twelfth minute set the tone for an intense battle.
One of the best chances of the first half fell to CFC's Ayden Bowers in the 22nd minute as a corner was nodded to him at the back post, but he was unable to get his quick volley on target.
Another chance went begging in the 33rd minute as high pressing Jamaican Richard Dixon closed down the Flower City goalkeeper and blocked his clearance. But the deflection bounced across the face of the goal with no harm done.
Flower City grew into the match in the last fifteen minutes of the first half. The hosts had several dangerous shots, and Jean Antoine made a very important reaction save from close range in the 38th minute to keep things level.
It would remain 0-0 at the half.
Whatever Rod Underwood said at halftime seemed to work.
The best team in the league sprang into action. After failing to register a single shot on target in the first half, the team picked up the pace immediately, with CFC midfielder Alex McGrath (England) and Mutaya Mwape (Zambia) testing the keeper in the first four minutes.
It was finally Chattanooga legend Markus Naglestad (Norway) that broke the deadlock in the 50th minute. Mwape managed to take a dangerous shot inside the box following a 1-2 with Naglestad. Mwape’s shot was saved, but the Union keeper couldn’t hold onto the ball. The Union defense was caught ball watching, waiting for their keeper to get up to claim the ball, leaving time for Naglestad to rush forward and get to the ball first. After a cool finish from a yard out, Naglestad put the league leaders ahead 1-0.
The Norwegian nearly doubled the lead in the 56th minute as a fine free kick attempt forced a big save.
Things got worse for the hosts in the 61st minute. Chattanooga’s high press forced an error on the Union back line, letting CFC's Jesus Ibarra steal the ball with a clear sight of goal. Union defender Ortiz had to drag him back from behind to prevent a second goal, earning him a straight red card. The hosts were a goal down and a man down with thirty minutes to play.
Luis Garcia-Sosa put a second goal on the board in the 75th minute. After a spell of sustained pressure, Garcia-Sosa took a shot from just outside the top of the box, scooping over the keeper and into the net. The boys in blue had a secure 2-0 lead.
From there, the end result was never in doubt. As the final whistle blew, Chattanooga was awarded three points and the NISA regular season title.
Head coach Rod Underwood was thrilled with the team’s accomplishment after the game.
“This is a big moment for the club to win the regular season title," Underwood said. "We have been focused on small steps, making the playoffs, having a first round bye, and winning the regular season.”
The 2-0 victory was reflective of the exciting attack and stingy defense that have brought Chattanooga so far. The boys in blue have two more regular season appearances to perfect their craft before the next challenge awaits: the NISA playoffs.
“Now we focus on winning the playoffs,” Underwood emphasized. “Chattanooga is an important club in the American soccer landscape so to have taken this next step is important for the club”
The regular season concludes for Chattanooga with a road trip to Savannah on Saturday, October 21. The boys in blue then return to Fort Finley on Wednesday, October 25 to celebrate its 15th season as Chattanooga's club. Special throwback ticket pricing will be just $5 as an they host Club de Lyon from Florida.
The win on Saturday guarantees home field advantage for Chattanooga FC through the playoffs. It will receive a bye in the quarterfinal and host the NISA Semifinal on Sunday, November 5 at Finley Stadium.
Tickets for all CFC games are available at ChattanoogaFC.com/TICKETS.