Atlanta United FC will be hitting the pitch for their historic first match on Saturday. Although it’s an exhibition against an amateur club in NPSL side Chattanooga FC, it’s the first opportunity for supporters to see the entire AUFC roster - as it stands now - on the pitch. To learn more about Chattanooga FC, and soccer in Chattanooga as a whole, I had a chance to chat with Andrew Bresee, vice president of the city’s American Outlaws chapter and a leader of the Chattahooligans, CFC’s supporter group.
What's been the secret to CFC's success? They've qualified for the playoffs for all but two of their eight seasons and have advanced to the championship game four times. That's a remarkable run for any club.
CFC’s run of success is no accident. It starts with the founders, all of whom are successful and driven. They committed to running a top notch organization from day one and have followed through on that commitment, from coaching decisions to game day experience.It also helps that from day one they had at least 1500 fans at every game. When you have that kind of fan support in the NPSL, not to mention the dollars that come from tickets, you can attract higher level college players.
In August 2015, CFC drew over 18,000 (a record for an amateur team) to the NPSL championship. What has made the team so popular in the area? Was the high attendance a result of the championship game, or does it always draw well?
CFC manages to truly embody the spirit of Chattanooga. They truly are “Chattanooga’s Team.” Chattanoogans are proud of their city and by extension their club. Average attendance has gone up every year and the crowds are made up of hardcore soccer fans and many people who are brand new. The final in 2015 was extra special because we didn’t find out until Tuesday of that week that we would be hosting. Until then, we were planning on driving to New York. It was a perfect night and one of the proudest soccer moments in Chattanooga’s history, even though the final score wasn’t what we would have hoped.
I always find it interesting to talk to fans at Chattanooga games and hear that they have no other soccer team allegiance. Often they tell me they came to soccer through CFC and only follow CFC. A CFC game is a fun event and you don’t have to be a soccer fan to have a beer and enjoy live sports.
In 2016, CFC averaged 4813 fans per game. In 2015 they averaged 4673 (including the aforementioned final). Breaking it down a little further, average playoff attendance for 2016 was 7523 and 8074 in 2015 (big final). The playoff numbers show the draw of a “big event” while the high average attendances are comparable with professional clubs from cities 2-3 times the size of Chattanooga. I won’t bore you with statistics and numbers, but if you're like me and find soccer attendance interesting, check out https://www.reddit.com/r/ChattanoogaFC/comments/4kotxy/2016_home_chattanooga_fc_attendance_tracker_post/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/ChattanoogaFC/comments/3ghdvz/2015_chattanooga_fc_attendance_npsl_finals_edition/.
A former CFC player, Mark Sherrod, was selected by Houston Dynamo in the second round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Has CFC traditionally been able to feed players into MLS during their existence, and do they project to do so in the future?
Mark Sherrod is a great story. Every year CFC feeds players into the professional pipeline both here and especially abroad. There are professional scouts who scout CFC every season. Interestingly, most CFC players in recent history have been Div II or NAIA guys. CFC tends to tap the “unknown” pipeline from local smaller colleges.
What's the outlook for CFC this year? Who are a few players Atlanta United fans should be watching on Saturday?
Saturday's game will be fascinating for many reasons, not only that it pits 1st division vs 4th division and pro vs amateur, but also because many of the college players who traditionally make up CFC’s summer roster will still be in school. This means roster construction will be very interesting and potentially much different from last summer or this upcoming summer.
One player to watch will be David Perez. A standout at Lee University, this year Perez was Chattanooga’s representative at the NPSL combine. A technical wing player, Perez came on very strong towards the end of last season and his playing time increased every game. Another is Luke Winter. Winter just accepted the job as head coach at Tennessee Wesleyan University so I hope this doesn’t change his availability. A physical striker with good technical ability, Winter is known for scoring goals in big games. Assuming he’s there, expect him to be involved in CFC’s big chances.