By Jim Tanner/NPSL.com
For an early-April exhibition match, Saturday night’s match between Chattanooga Football Club and Detroit City FC certainly felt like a mid-season clash.
With 4,129 screaming fans in Finley Stadium, including at least 100 DCFC fans making the trip south, the atmosphere was electric well before the match even began and it only continued as play started.
“It’s just amazing (in Chattanooga) and second to none,” NPSL Managing Director Cindy Spera said. “We were down earlier in the supporters group and it’s just a unique atmosphere 10 years in the making. Today is just a show of how strong the team is and how strong the league is. Chattanooga kind of is our blueprint for success in the NPSL.”
Markus Smarzoch’s scorching goal from 35-yards away in the 52nd minute lifted Chattanooga FC to a 1-0 victory on a night where the home side had most offensive chances throughout the match.
“It was a nice feeling,” Smarzoch said of his goal. “It was coming out of a long throw in, and I just got it off my chest with one touch and I just smashed it. I had a good feeling (it was going in).”
CFC was the more dangerous side in the first half with Joao Costa having a couple of big shots on goal in the first 45 minutes and CFC pushing forward for several other offensive opportunities. Strong play by Detroit City FC goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher kept the game scoreless at halftime, but Chattanooga kept up the attack after the break leading to Smarzoch’s game-winner.
“We knew we were going to come out and it would be 100 miles an hour,” Steinwascher said. “We knew what tonight meant to everybody and what it was going to be like. We had good shape but it was just an unbelievable hit and not much you can do. We defended it well, and he just hit it well.”
Detroit’s biggest threat in the first half came on a free kick from just outside the box. Dave Edwardson’s kick was on target for Detroit City FC, but Chattanooga goalkeeper Phil D’Amico punched the ball away to keep the game scoreless.
After taking the lead, CFC head coach Bill Elliott made several substitutions and the CFC began playing more compact on defense to protect the lead and fend off a couple of Detroit FC chances late. Even playing with a more defensive posture, Chattanooga FC’s Caleb Cole just missed on a chance to get a second goal in the 86th minute of play.
“It’s a great way to start the season,” Elliott said. “I’m really excited about their performance tonight.”
The match featured two of the most passionate fan bases in the NPSL with the Chattahooligans and Detroit’s Northern Guard supporters groups. Both sets of supporters groups were chanting and sharing good-natured rivalry before the match, but it was competition tempered by respect.
“From what I’ve heard about Chattanooga FC, it’s a city-built team just like DCFC,” said Detroit City supporter Dan Bechlem, who traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the match. “It’s a grassroots thing and we respect the camaraderie between the two teams. It’s been a great trip and nothing but respect. Hopefully, we’ll come back again in the fall or next year.”
Chattanooga FC supporter Rod Thomas was also expecting an intense night of competition with such a strong visiting crowd of DCFC fans.
“It’s going chaotic and fun with two teams that are passionate about what they do,” he said. “There will probably be 90 minutes of calling each other names, bu then afterwards we’ll hug and make up.”
Despite coming out on the losing end of his team’s first match of the 2019 season, Detroit City FC head coach Trevor James was pleased with how his team looked in their first outing.
“From a neutral point of view, it was an exciting game,” he said. “Both teams had chances, and we just came up a goal short. But it’s our first game and our first time to get together. (Chattanooga) was a little bit ahead of us in conditioning, but I think it was good for both teams.”
Saturday’s win was actually Chattanooga FC’s 100th win all-time.
Photo Credit: Ray Soldano/NPSL.com