Any hopes the Chattanooga Football Club had in Saturday’s exhibition match against MLS side Atlanta United FC may have ended two minutes into the match on one of the home team’s better scoring chances.
Luke Winter’s early exit from the match put NPSL power CFC on their heels early and Atlanta rolled to a 4-0 victory in front of 12,484 fans.
Winter, who led CFC last season with six goals in the regular season, injured himself in a collision with Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann after breaking past the Atlanta defense with a strong scoring chance. Winter tried to continue for CFC but was unable to continue and subbed out for Daniel Whitehall with the match less than five minutes old.
Chattanooga coach Bill Elliott said that early injury hurt his side’s offensive plan.
“You figure if he can get one chance it’s probably a goal,” Elliott said after the match. “Even at this level, he’s a goal scorer. And the kid that came on was the National Player of the Year in NAIA and scored 36 goals this season, but he just didn’t get chances.
“We were always going to be defending a lot, but I really wish we could have taken one of those half chances we got.”
With the Chattanooga offense limited and wearing down fast, Atlanta quickly took advantage. Hector Villalba opened the scoring in the ninth minute on a deflection by CFC fill-in goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck, and Yamil Asad made the score 2-0 in the 36th minute on a spectacular shot from the edge of the box to the top right corner of the goal.
Atlanta’s Greg Garza made a second trip to Chattanooga in eight days after being a part of the United States Men’s National Team lineup that defeated Jamaica 1-0 on Feb. 3. He was happy begin learning about him MLS team and get to know what will be expected by Atlanta head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino.
“It’s a good first test for us,” Garza said. “Personally, I think we still have a lot left to work on, especially the back four. But it was good to get out there and see how can build that chemistry and start working on the philosophy that Tata wants to implement in all of our games.”
The second half was all Atlanta United, as the professional side took advantage of its fitness advantage over Chattanooga, which was playing without some key players and having only one practice session to prepare. In the 68th minute, Josef Martinez’s header made the score 3-0, and 16-year-old homegrown player Andrew Carleton from Powder Springs, Ga., ended the scoring in the 74th minute by putting home a deflection off Zobeck before running to celebrate with the throngs of Atlanta fans crowding the east end of the stadium.
“It was a dream come true just to be able to get on the field and play,” Carleton said. “I was happy with how the team played and how I was able to perform to be able to get on the scoresheet and to be able to contribute to the team as best I can.
“I try to take it step by step and enjoy it as much as possible. This is what I’ve worked my whole life for, and I’m just hoping to continue to grow as a player.”
Atlanta dominated the offensive statistics, outshooting Chattanooga 18-6 with an 8-2 advantage in shots on goal. The score could have been worse without strong defensive work by Chattanooga and several spectacular saves by Zobeck, who will return to the New York Cosmos for the regular season.
“Personally it was great for me,” Zobeck said. “I think everyone had a good time who played in this game, and everyone put in their best effort.
“Obviously it kind of sucks to lose, but I think the guys can be proud of what we did here today against an MLS side.”
While not getting the result he’d hoped for from his team, Elliott was happy with his team’s grit against a stronger side and optimistic about how this experience will set up Chattanooga FC when the NPSL season opens in May.
“I think it gives us a little be of a head start,” Elliott said. “It gives our guys an understanding of what the next level is. It gives our guys also an early chance to evaluate themselves in terms of fitness and preparation.
“These are motivated guys. They didn’t come into the stadium planning to lose today, so I think it’s going to motivate them to really prepare for May.”