The Chattanooga FC men’s side opened the 2022 NISA campaign with a 1-1 draw against Eastern rivals Maryland Bobcats FC at Finley Stadium on a windy Saturday afternoon. This match marked the beginning of the much anticipated Rod Underwood era in the Scenic City.
Before the game started, we were given a lovely tree-shaped formation featuring 3 CFC returners and many NISA transfers in the Starting XI. When I first saw it, I thought maybe CFC were being a bit dishonest on social media to prevent any tactical hints, but was surprised to see the guys follow this shape very strictly, with Dixon more often tucked in the middle of the midfield trio and the fullbacks pushing high up in possession. The team was certainly set up to control possession and win the ball back quickly. The guys also did really well rotating around, covering for each other when a player went forward or got out of position. This helped nullify most of the Bobcats’ attacking threat.
CFC accumulated 1.58 xG from 7 shots in the match; this is artificially inflated by Cerro’s double take below:
If we lump this chance into one, CFC still ends the match with 1.15 xG, the highest in the league this weekend.
The game didn’t have a large amount of chances, with the Bobcats’ best chances coming from free kicks. Darwin Espinal’s free kick that slammed off the post was the first shot of the match, and a nearly mirror-image free kick on the opposite end resulted in the Bobcats’ equalizer, which cancelled out Ian Cerro’s earlier penalty take that was won from a great run by Alex McGrath that saw him taken down from behind. The guys in gold had a few chances to tuck away the game, most notably Brett Jones’ effort that floored a defender and rattled off the inside of the woodwork. However, in the end, the game was destined for a draw.
Overall, I was very pleased with the team’s performance, and thought we were unlucky to walk away without all three points. Compared to last season, I felt that we were much more patient in possession; last year there seemed to be so many forced long balls forward, but these guys are picking out the right pass and only putting through very intentional long balls (and the wind certainly didn’t help those). McGrath and Cerro did an excellent job moving the ball up the pitch, our forwards did a great job getting into space, and we got to witness the best dribbler in the league, Damien Rodriguez, work some magic.
Ian Cerro was officially named man on the match, which I agree with. He will be so important for CFC this year. A close second for me was Franky Martinez. I enjoyed watching his composure on the ball, good passing, and solid defense. I mentioned earlier that we generated the most xG of any team this week; we also faced the second least, thanks to some solid defensive work.
There is no reason not to be deliriously excited for this season; the new signings are great, coaching staff is great, and the Scenic City is great. Maybe we’ll grab all three points next time out away to AC Syracuse!