By Cameron Wood, Staff Writer —
Soccer as a sport of prominence anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line seems like an oxymoron. But in Chattanooga, the sport is carving out a space for itself, and the growth can be seen in a couple of key instances. One of those instances was the back-to-back appearances of the United States women’s and men’s national team in 2015 and 2017 respectively. The other is the rise in popularity of the local club, Chattanooga Football Club (CFC). Both of these instances show that soccer is not simply a subculture anymore, but rather establishing itself as a dominating sport within Chattanooga.
When the U.S. women’s national team showed up in Chattanooga on Aug. 19, 2015 as part of their Victory Tour following the 2015 Women’s World Cup win, they were greeted by a record crowd of 20,535 fans. Their visit marked a special moment for the Scenic City, as their visit came just over a month after the tragic shootings at two military sites in Chattanooga. The 7-2 victory over Costa Rica provided a moment of unity and patriotism that brought more fans to the sport in support of their country.
Then on Feb. 3. 2017, the men’s national team came into town for an international friendly with CONCACAF rivals Jamaica. The friendly served as a warm-up match for the World Cup Qualifiers in March against Honduras and Panama. 17,903 excited fans packed into Finley Stadium to watch the men’s national team take a 1-0 victory thanks to a brilliant goal from Jordan Morris.
The final piece of the puzzle is the prominent rise of CFC. Founded in 2009, CFC has quickly risen to become major players in the National Premier Soccer League, a part of the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid. Attendance for CFC games surpass many of their rivals. On average, CFC has over 3,000 people in attendance per game.
CFC holds multiple attendance records, including the league record for a 2014 playoff match against Sacramento Gold where 8,878 soccer fans showed up. Friendlies against bigger competition such as MLS clubs Atlanta United and New York Cosmos B has brought numbers surpassing 10,000.
These attendance numbers show just how willing the city is to latch onto soccer as a sport, with other major sports’ presence lacking. This vacuum will allow soccer to grow as a culture, as it has over the past few years.