Inter Nashville FC’s inaugural season became even more magical Tuesday night after overcoming a halftime deficit to drop Chattanooga FC 2-1 in the first round of the NPSL Playoffs in front of over 4,000 fans at Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium.
The two West Division members of the Southeast Conference came into the match with identical records from the regular season, and after 45 minutes of play, just one goal from CFC separated the two. The goal came from a Leo DeSmedt penalty kick in stoppage time after CFC’s Felipe Antonio was brought down in the box.
Still, despite the massive adversity, Inter Nashville never wavered in confidence.
“Our players are so mentally strong,” Inter Nashville FC Manager Richard Askey said. “We said the brave guys were going to win today, and I think we were more brave in that second half.”
After switching up to a 3-5-2 formation to really test the CFC defense, Nashville managed to find some momentum that eventually led to a score near the 70th. The gates opened for Inter Nashville again less than ten minutes later when substitute Chuka Aruh made a tremendous run to quiet the home crowd and inevitably send his team to the next round.
“Their first goal was a mistake on our part, and when you give a strong, resilient team like Nashville a life-line, they’re going to take it,” Chattanooga FC Head Coach Bill Elliott said. “I don’t think that we were any more tired than they were after the first goal, but it definitely gave them energy and life and zapped the wind out of us.”
The 2-1 result is the third time in three matches that these two clubs have ended with that result this season. Chattanooga FC earned the win in their first-ever meeting on June 17 in Chattanooga, and Nashville evened up the series a couple weeks later in Antioch. The win tonight gives Nashville the series lead for now, and a win inside of a tough place to play as a visitor.
“We’ve been battling with this team on and off the field all season so to come out on top in a spot like this is incredible,” Aruh said. “We’ve wanted to show people what a first-year team can do all season, and this team is the benchmark…it just feels great.”
With the reigning Southeastern Conference champions knocked out of postseason play, the remarkable first season for Inter Nashville FC continues. But, despite being in unchartered territory in more ways than one, a deep postseason run is no surprise to their head man in charge.
“It might seem crazy, but after the first practice I told the guys that they were going to win the league,” Askey said. “They were giving me some strange looks at the time, but now they’re fully behind me and they believe in what we’re going to do. We’re the best footballing team in the league and I think we’re going to smoke everybody.”
The next round of the NPSL Playoffs will feature two teams from the Volunteer State as Inter Nashville and the Knoxville Force will travel to New Orleans to square off.