Crowd of 12,251 was the second highest in CFC history

The Chattanooga Football Club had Sonoma County wobbling, on the brink of a knockout in the first half of its National Premier Soccer League semifinal Saturday. But they couldn’t knock the visitors out.

That came back to bite them in the end.

Sonoma County scored twice in the final 15 minutes of play to stun top-ranked CFC 2-1 and advance to the team’s fourth NPSL final in league history.

They will face AFC Cleveland in the final this week.

The Finley Stadium crowd of 12,251 erupted in the fifth minute when Juan Hernandez found Will Roberts for a goal, but Sol coach Vinny Cortezzo made some halftime adjustments as his team went into the locker room down 1-0 — and it should have been worse.

“They were dominating the midfield in the first, so we pinched our left side winger up to even out the numbers,” he said. “Plus we turned the ball over in the first half which fueled their attack. We didn’t keep the ball enough and we got tired because we turned it over too much and were defending too much, so we focused on maintaining possession and improving pressure on the ball and things started to go our way.

“Then it became a matter of finding one, because we knew if we could find one, the next one would come.”

Sonoma County dominated most of the second half, but weren’t able to put anything away as CFC goalkeeper Greg Hartley made a number of spectacular saves on shots from close. The first goal didn’t come until the 80th minute when Noah Paravicini netted a shot. Sonoma County then took the lead during stoppage time when Simon Whitaker scored.

“Marco (Barragan) had the ball, and I saw some space between the back line and the midfield, so I pointed where I wanted it and shouted for him,” Whitaker said, noting he was “surprised Barragan was able to hear him” through the crowd noise. “He played it in space, I took one touch and tried to put it on frame. Luckily I put it around the goalkeeper.”

CFC head coach Bill Elliott described the loss as “heartbreaking.”

“We work year round, the whole organization works year-round to be in the position we were in tonight, so to lose in the dying seconds like we did, it hurts,” Elliott said. “But I’m proud of my team. I thought we played well. We had a great first half and should have put the match away by halftime, but we didn’t.

“When you get in big games against good teams, it comes back to bite you and I think that’s what happened tonight.”

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