The upcoming game is going to be a tough one, so here you are with everything you need to know.
First, the specifics. The game is away to Chattanooga FC (CFC). It will be streamed live on ElevenSports.com on Saturday April 22nd at 7:30 pm. If any of you make it down, make sure to hit up Valiant 33 on Twitter to come say hi and support the team with me.
Chattanooga is definitely FCU’s hardest test yet. Whereas I would have predicted Maryland to be more of an even toss-up, probably favoring Maryland, we definitely were their equal even though we lost 1-0. Going against Manhattan SC, the 3-1 win went as expected. However, CFC has won their first three games by an aggregate score of 12-1. They will certainly be the favorite for this match.
While FCU spent the off-season rebuilding and is very much a new team, CFC has strengthened their team that took second place last year. I was told, “The staff went out and re-tooled the entire back line, goalkeeper, as well as added depth to the midfield and forward areas that often lacked in 2022.” So, not only were they strong last year, but they’ve built on that. Players they brought in include a goal keeper (Jean Antoine) who won the NISA Golden Glove last year for most clean sheets (shutouts) and a Moldovan national team defender, Anatolie Prepelita. They also retained Golden Boot (most goals) and Golden Ball (MVP) winner Markus Naglestad. I was told, “Finishing second in the 2022 Regular Season was a success for CFC, but the team will have felt hard done by an early exit in the playoff semifinal and has spent the offseason preparing to improve on that in hopes of winning the league in 2023.” And they seem to be planning to do just that.
On the Flower City Union side, the first two games were both successes to me. Maryland vastly outplayed FCU last year and while this year’s game was a disappointing loss, the teams appeared to be evenly matched. We’ll enter the game on a winning note having kept Rochester’s US Open Cup streak alive (no professional Rochester team has ever lost the first round of the Open Cup, aside from the Rhinos in 2001, after winning 4 straight qualifying round games). Speaking with Coach Sullivan, the team is not going in with the underdog mentality. He said, “The team is in good spirits after Tuesday [the USOC win].” As well they should be. The are “excited to carry that momentum and confidence into the next game. Chattanooga are a quality side and are to be respected, so the team will be well prepared.”
The team took some much welcome time off after two games in 3 days. From Coach Sullivan, the players spent their week “focusing on us… training and continuing to gel as a group and focus on what our identity [is].” From an outsider’s perspective, the team really does gel well together off the field, and from the preseason matches through the first two games, it’s been a steady upward progression of learning each other on the field as well.
While I think Chattanooga is certainly the favorite, Valiant 33’s own Mike C. has been watching their games and says, “CFC likes to attack down the middle– clog those spaces up and force them to recycle the ball out wide and hit on the counter with speed to exploit those spaces left behind.” Whether the team sees it the same way or if they have their own tactics to exploit, the game isn’t unwinnable. I’ll leave Coach Sullivan with the final words. “No matter the opponent, it’s important [when] we play we show our identity on the field and play with passion and courage.” And I don’t doubt that they will.
Thank you to @WhiskeyIsFine for his thoughts from a CFC point of view and Jordan Sullivan for his.