Yesterday’s announcement of Chattanooga FC hosting Atlanta United on February 11, along with the U.S. men’s national team playing Jamaica a week earlier, took some by surprise. Sean McDaniel, general manager of the NPSL club, made a bold statement at the press conference, setting a goal of 40,000 in attendance for the two games.
McDaniel told Dirty South Soccer that the plans for Atlanta United to play in Chattanooga have been building for a while:
"Originally, our intention with Atlanta United was for them not to play us but to bring them to Chattanooga for a showcase match. Atlanta United had already agreed to do that and it just became a matter of finding appropriate competition. As we started making calls, we both realized that it's really expensive to bring another team in here.”
From there, a Plan B was created:
“Quite honestly, their Director of Soccer Operations Paul McDonough said, ‘Sean, why don't we just come play you guys?’ I said, "You know, we're typically not here in February, but I think that's a great idea.’ And the rest is history. It moved very quickly from there. We've been talking and meeting for a considerable amount of time. They've been great partners and collaborators in everything we're doing. Once we realized that a big time team wasn't going to work out, it became really easy to insert us and here we are."
In the past, Chattanooga FC would not have been able to take on a challenge like this. The NPSL runs a summer season and many teams in the South Region are stocked with college players who are unavailable during this time of year. With their longevity, McDaniel said that Chattanooga is in a different place now:
"In the good old days, we were all waiting for players to ride in on game day. Times have changed. This is our ninth season. We have a whole foundation of players that live here year-round. Gone are the days of having to rely on so many young college players, now we've built a great pipeline of guys who are now graduated and live in the city. Quite frankly, it's why we're able to do what we're doing. We have enough veterans and key personnel around to put a competitive squad out there for a good match."
Could this match be a precursor to a more formal relationship between Atlanta United and Chattanooga? Maybe, but McDaniel is most encouraged by the approach of Atlanta United’s leadership when it comes to the bigger picture:
"I hope so, I think that's what we've been so encouraged about. I'll give credit to Darren Eales, Carlos (Bocanegra), and Paul (McDonough). They have been extremely genuine in their hope to build soccer in the Southeast. Atlanta is their home, but I think what Darren has brought to the table is a more global vision for fellowship of football. Whether there is a formal partnership between CFC and Atlanta United remains to be seen. At the very least, we both share resources, marketing tools, ideas and that's the way it should be. We should be partners for the greater good of the game and that's exactly what's happening now."
With Chattanooga’s success, rumors always pop up about them going pro and joining the NASL or the USL. Reportedly, both leagues have had an interest in Chattanooga FC in recent years. McDaniel said that this is something the club has considered, but they are happy where they are right now:
"I think we're quite content where we are. Moving up right now, I'm not sure we can do better than we've already done. We've had the women's national team here, the men's national team is on their way, we have an awesome game with Atlanta United. Moving up doesn't necessarily give us something that we don't already have. More importantly, if we can honor the fans, honor the city, and have a truly affordable summer night for fans then staying right where we are and building it well and building it better is perfectly fine for us. If it's not broke, there's nothing to fix. That's certainly where we're going to stay for the immediate future."
"It's not that we don't ever consider it, we should consider it. Any good business partnership group does, they consider the pros and cons. Today, we don't believe it needs to change. We actually are happy with where it's going. We feel that the growth of the sport exists in the lower levels. Now you can have regional rivalries at low cost points that still gives people a great event in the summer. Let those that exist in the top levels, like Atlanta United, they're going to be successful because that's where they exist and who they serve. If we can compare notes and build off of each others' successes, then we're going to keep doing that and be happy with it."
Tickets are available now at ChattanoogaFC.com. Tickets will be $15 in advance, and $20 on game day.