Kieran Bywater’s journey to Chattanooga FC and the NPSL is a recent one, but the impact he has made on both will last for years to come.
Bywater spent 10 years with England’s West Ham United and moved to the U.S. in January to attend the University of Charleston. He has yet to play at the college level, but was able to catch on with Chattanooga FC for his first NPSL season.
What a season it has been for Bywater, the entire team, and the club’s passionate supporters. Bywater made seven appearances for CFC, finishing with two goals. He was a two-way midfielder that made a difference defensively and on the attack.
Chattanooga FC finished the regular season with a 9-0-1 record, thanks to a conference-leading offense (21 goals) and the league’s top defense (three goals allowed).
“Our regular season campaign shows how well we have performed with the results to match,” Bywater commented. “Of course there were some tough games where we had to grind out results, but it shows that we can win a variety of games by remaining unbeaten.”
The team has rattled off a series of important playoff victories against Knoxville Force, Memphis City FC, Dutch Lions FC NPSL, and Miami United FC to get them to this point.
“I’ve loved the playoffs and so have the lads,” Bywater added. “They are games and occasions you want to perform in to get the win to help the club progress.”
CFC’s supporters have been tremendous on and off the field, breaking attendance records at all. Their last match had 10,104 in attendance and the team is opening up even more stands for Saturday’s matchup with the Sonoma County Sol.
Bywater was most impressed with the support Chattanooga FC receives week in and week out.
“I was expecting big crowds as that was one of the factors that convinced me to come and play here. But the Chattahooligans and the fans have outdone my expectations with their loyal support. This is my first NPSL season with CFC and the club has made me fall in love with my football again.”
Being in Chattanooga has been a renaissance for Bywater’s career and his toughness and work rate have definitely fit in with the culture of the club.
“Our work ethic as a collective squad has been second to none which has evidence in our clean sheet record. We know if we work hard as a team that we have plenty of quality to beat any team we face.”
The next team they face is the Sol, one of the league’s oldest and most successful programs. The Sol have seven conference titles, three national title game appearances (2005, 2009, 2013), and one national title (2009) under their belt.
They also had a brilliant regular season, finishing first in the Golden Gate Conference with an 8-4-2 record. Sonoma County would reach this year’s national semifinals with three massive postseason wins against East Bay FC Stompers, North County Battalion, and Albion SC Pros.
Bywater clearly respects his opponent, but believes CFC will be successful on Saturday.
“Any team that has got this far has to be doing things right on and off the pitch so nothing can be taken lightly. It will be a competitive match in front of a big crowd which I’m sure us as the home team will thrive off.”
Bywater also knows that CFC will play their game, putting their stamp on the match.
“I don’t think you can be overly concerned with the opposition. Obviously you have to be wary of their strengths and weaknesses, but you can only control the things we are doing and will do on the day.”
And what a day it is going to be, perhaps home to one of the best matchups in league history.