Writer's Note: This has been unforgivably late in coming out. I apologize for publishing something on an event that must seem like ages ago. American soccer ages us very quickly. A single week is an eternity, sometimes; a month, an epoch. At this point, it's better that this be out than continue to be delayed, especially in light of the poor quality of the August 10th 2019 match's mycujoo.tv stream.
For a town bereft of rail transit, and seemingly little interest in getting some, Chattanooga leans a lot on its history as a rail hub. Chatta's Union Depot met an ignoble end as a block of office buildings, but its Terminal Station still stands. Sort of. (It's a hotel.) And yet, the bookstore across the street didn't have a single book on rail history. Quite the incongruence.
(Seriously, Chatta, weren't you at least pretending to talk about a light rail plan a few years back? And what about that HSR to Atlanta? As a New Yorker, it kills me to see such spread-out empty land going to so little purpose. Mixed-use, higher-density is the way you get more people within walking distance of a stadium, peeps.)
The same could be said about Chattanooga FC. One of the lions of the independent soccer scene, and some of the outwardly friendliest people you will come across. Trailblazers of a supporter ownership scheme; full-throated supporters of supporter culture, yet worked diligently on some tifo (you could tell by how much effort they went into to get our logo perfectly) talking otherwise typical bantz at the Cosmos that presented at face value one of the myths institutional soccer perpetuates about Cosmos Country. It wasn't a big deal, but it was definitely a study in contrasts. Oh yeah, and this guy. (To be fair, I hear this person is actually very cool and beloved.)
For those who have never been to Finley Stadium, it really is a nice setup. A brewery beer hall on one side, a brace of large bars on the other, with no offsets to the surrounding streets, surrounds the stadium. The scale was comfortable. It was an easily navigable third space, not a monolith as many stadia of comparable seating come across as. There were smaller tailgate affairs going on, all with very kind people, but excellent corned beef was to be had at the formal CFC prematch party. Nestled under an open roof structure with large, slowly-turning fans, Chattahooligans and other CFC fans are gifted with the perfect place for all-weather summer gatherings, farmers markets and the like. The few Cosmos fans who made the trip felt very welcome. We shared drinks and laughs and gossip.
I had a chance to ask a number of supporters how they felt about the move to NISA, and all felt very optimistic about it. One said it felt like the right thing to do, given the dark shenanigans of the USL East Ridge carpetbaggers. Since NISA is a USSF-sanctioned league, I took this to mean they felt that NISA offered a measure of stability and security that another year in the NPSL did not. I can't blame them.
Looking across the pitch at the empty bleachers on the other side, there's no question something has changed between today and the summer of 2015, when Cosmos were last in town. While Saturday's match had a satisfying and rambunctious 3400 show up to watch Cosmos B+ win, just four short years ago 18,000 packed the stadium for a chance to see these two clubs face off. Much has changed since. While the three-wolves clipart-librarians are not doing as well as they had hoped, the long-term impact of a better-funded league and its infrastructure, shielded from competition or strict interpretations of USSF Professional League standards, remains to be seen. At the same time, I stared at that curious bantz tifo again and couldn't help but wonder if a change in cadence hd occurred in our solidarity for the common causes of independent soccer. Now that they've made the switch to NISA, perhaps the pressure to fight for the hard things will be mitigated. I guess we'll see.
I'm always reminded at away matches how nice it is being a decently-sized fish in a small pond. We here in New York A diverse range of sponsorship signs littered the grounds. There were some great-looking food trucks onsite. Even the big corps are drawn to wanting a piece of the action. McDonalds had some inflatable play structure set up in front of the ticket office. Chick Fil-A were also on hand to give away sandwiches at the end of the Saturday match since, of course, they close on Sundays.
There were a number of false starts and issues with the video stream of this match. MyCujoo has confirmed that they have identified the issues for which they could control and have addressed them, going forward.
That said, I know many Cosmos fans were frustrated with the experience, including a few who gathered at Banter Bar Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, for a last-minute watch party. Despite the issues, they reported remaining in good spirits.
Expect more away matches to have watch parties here. FTP will include watch-party information in our Members Cup match events.
Back in Chatta, the away team were handed media badges for a minute, thanks to the Chattahooligans, and walked onto the field to set up a few travel flags.
We took a moment to take in the scene and remark on the utter weirdness that is lower-division soccer, and slowly made our way off the field past the visitors door.
If your writer had been a little bit slower at the draw, this otherwise drab picture of a door to the temporary Cosmos embassy and vistors locker room would have caught Danny Szetela sneaking a peak outside, just as surprised by us being right outside.
We wished Danny and a few others who stuck their heads out hearty well-wishes for the match as we walked out of the sunken field up a ramp to the surrounding street level.
It wasn't much longer before we made it back in and kickoff commenced. Security was a presence, to be sure. They do seem to maintain a higher level of baseline jitteriness than perhaps our jaded cosmopolitan senses might be used to for a crowd of 3400.
As to the match itself, in truth the Chattanooga FC represented themselves well. They had a great deal of energy and speed to which they applied to keep the Cosmos squad a little off-balance and on the defensive. They had a number of near-misses and woodwork hits that could have gone very easily a different way. But as the match went on, their pressure was not sustainable.
Our boys were not at their best in the first half. Similar to the Miami match, there was a hint of sluggishness in the face of a more competitive press. They took some shots but it was a more reactive affair. Coming back for the second half, and a change in formation that shored up the backline, 'Mos made a greater effort to leverage the chances they were creating. A frustrated Chattanooga kept up the pressure for a bit, but now fewer opportunities developed and their frustration seemed to lean into their tiredness. We bided our time, as they slowed. Szetela and Agolli received, frankly, ridiculous yellow cards, both for dissent around the 38th and 50th minutes, respectively. To this layman's eye, the adjudication in this game was particularly unimpressive. I hadn't realized the tournament had reached out to Corsica to find a referee.
In the end, our squad brims with an exceptional amount of set-piece talent. Junior Burgos was testimony to that, as a beautifully positioned free-kick in the 84th ultimately brought the boys home with three points.
It was a night, and worth the trip. Thanks Chattanooga for the hospitality, the memories, and most of all the three points. We'll be waiting for you in New York. Expect no different result.
Vamos Cosmos carajo!
* = National Transportation Safety Board