With the club’s success over the past couple of seasons, Chattanooga Football Club coach Bill Elliott is well-equipped in how to manage his club when facing multiple matches in a short time frame.
He decided to hold out David Perez from Thursday’s road match against Nashville FC in hopes of obtaining a pair of fresh legs when the team hosted the Birmingham Hammers Saturday at Finley Stadium.
“It paid off, didn’t it?” Elliott said with a smile.
Perez had a goal and an assist, and CFC (9-1-1, 7-0) was able to claim a 2-0 win in front of 4,293 at Finley Stadium. The win gives CFC 21 points in Southeast Conference play, and that, coupled with Memphis City FC’s 2-1 loss at Nashville FC on Saturday, clinches at least a share of the conference championship.
Chattanooga faces Memphis City (3-3-1) on June 25 in Memphis.
Saturday, they came out with a ton of pressure early, trying to get on the board. Perez, a rising junior at NCAA Division II Lee University, had two opportunities in front of the box in the first 15 minutes. Chattanooga spent most of the first half dominating possession, but some solid keeper work by Birmingham keeper Bradley Louis kept CFC off the scoreboard.
That remained until the 35th minute, when Perez found some room down the left sideline and crossed the ball into Samuel Goni, who finished the shot to give the team a 1-0 edge.
“I think from the very start, we wanted to come out, try to put them under pressure and see if we could get that go-ahead goal,” Elliott said. “It took a little longer than we would have liked, but it came thankfully, then we knew they would have to open up and there would be some chances we could get.
“In the second half, we got a few more chances and finally got the insurance goal we were looking for.”
That goal came from Perez on a laser shot from about 25 yards out in the 83rd minute. It was his first career goal in a CFC uniform.
“It’s been coming,” Perez said. “I thought I’d had a decent week of training — I had a couple of shots in the first half, too — but when I had the shot, I figured I might as well hit it. It felt sweet off my foot and I saw it rising, and it went in.
“I was happy, I was buzzing.
Meanwhile, CFC was putting together their fourth consecutive shutout with a solid defensive performance. Birmingham was never able to put together a dangerous attempt, although Jerome Williams and James Ngoe had solid strikes that were saved by CFC goalkeeper Greg Hartley.
Hartley suffered a knee injury with about 20 minutes to play, as Williams slid in and collided with him while Hartley was collecting the ball. Both stayed on the ground for a number of minutes, with Hartley having to be helped off the field. His status is uncertain, although the coaching staff remains optimistic he’ll return soon.
“It was a scary moment,” Elliott said. “Greg isn’t just one of the best goalkeepers, he’s one of the best players in the NPSL. It’s frightening, but we’ve got a good medical staff, they’re gonna take care of him and hopefully get him back out there soon, but with that comes an opportunity for Tom (Halsall) to play a little bit and see what he can do.”
Halsall was in goal when CFC defeated Reading United Amateur Club in the U.S. Open Cup in May 17, so he’s definitely capable.
Williams was shown a red card for the play, resulting in his automatic ejection from the match.
Birmingham (1-5-1, 1-5), a first-year club, returns home on Wednesday, hosting the Knoxville Force.