PREVIEW: CHATTANOOGA VS. SACRAMENTO
Only four clubs remain in the 2014 NPSL season and the National Semifinal is set between South Region Champions Chattanooga FC hosting the West Region Champions Sacramento Gold Saturday night at Finley Stadium with kick off commencing at 7:30 p.m.
This will be Chattanooga’s fifth straight match at home in the playoffs (and eighth straight overall), as they have outscored their opponents 14 to 1 in the playoffs and have collected three straight clean sheets.
With the home field advantage still firmly in their hands, Chattanooga FC head coach Bill Elliott knows that the ball is in CFC’s court.
“It’s huge for us to be at home this weekend for so many reasons,” Elliott said. “I think that not having to travel across the country is an advantage. You get to sleep in your own bed and stick to your routine opposed to having to travel. Also, we get a burst of energy from our fans, so there are so many reasons for us to be home.”
On the flip side, Sacramento already will be facing an uphill climb.
“Unfortunately we’re going to have to deal with it. It’s one of those obstacles that nobody wants to deal with. We’ll make the best of it. I’m sure that anyone that has done it before recognizes the fact of us having to take a redeye and not getting the proper amount of sleep and rest will be a disadvantage.”
That coming from Ruben Mora, Sacramento’s head coach.
Whoever can take the win in Chattanooga, will face the winner of the other Semifinal, which pits Northeast Region Champions New York Red Bulls U-23 against Midwest Region Champions Lansing United on Sunday evening.
Sacramento Gold have been no slouch either, as they beat the Sonoma County Sol (last year’s NPSL runners up) in the West final, beat FC Force 5-2 in the Regional Semis, and the San Diego Flash 2-1. Leading the way for the Gold is their manager, Mora, who guided the club to an 8-1-3 record as the club has scored an excellent 36 goals and surrendered only 10.
“We’re not going to look at the score lines from how Chattanooga has done, but we are going to continue to focus on our game and make sure that we are ready to play when the whistle blows Saturday,” Mora added.
Sacramento has scored three goals or more in eight of their matches in this year and has scored at least two in all but four of their games.
“We need to execute and I am confident that we’ll score. We’ve been scoring all year, so we cannot go and change our game plan now.”
Even though these teams are separated by more than 2,000 miles, they do have a history as they met in the 2010 in the NPSL Championship where CFC scored first, but conceded three straight goals in a 3-1 defeat in Huntsville, AL.
“I think that it’s just us against them, I don’t think that we have anyone that played in the previous meeting, so the match four years ago is not in our minds,” Elliott indicated.
“We are excited to be here,” Sacramento’s Mora added. “We’ve been there before and we feel that we should have been there two other times, but we lost in the regional final.”
Although that is four years ago, Chattanooga are looking to get back into the big game and win it all. If Saturday’s match moves to penalties, they are feeling confident with Greg Hartley, the most recent Mitre National Player of the Week, in net.
“Greg just has a knack for reading players when they are lining up for penalties, he certainly gives us a good feeling blocking penalties,” the CFC manager stated.
As much as Hartley has done well, it will be intriguing to see how he and the CFC defense can handle the firepower of the Golden Gate Conference Champions. Forward Jason Jones has double-digit goals scored this year and midfielder Manolo Pina has scored more than half a dozen.
“We have a good player pool and we are expecting for guys to step up and play well,” Mora added of his squad.
Two up-tempo clubs will go at it and once again, Finley Stadium will be loud with even more fans expected than last weekend’s crowd of 2,800 to watch CFC beat Tulsa. The Chattahooligans have spread their reputation now cross country, as Mora knows that the home crowd and a friendly confines is yet another advantage for CFC.
“We understand that Chattanooga has a good size crowd and they are a good team, and it’s a big game, so we will have to overcome these things as the best teams do.”
Regardless of what happens after 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, these two NPSL heavyweights will put their efforts out on the field this Saturday in the Scenic City for a chance to be named National Champions in 2014.