It feels like only a few days ago we were together at Finley Stadium… 52 days to be exact. Such an exciting, entertaining season with an unfortunate ending.
A new day dawns. Just 31 days from now we’ll be together again at Finley. There’s been a lot going on this offseason, so to keep in the writing groove, I’m starting a new series, “Why I’m Excited for the 2023 Season,” to transcript exactly what the title suggests, capturing the ins and outs of the morsels handed to us to survive until our boys in blue take the field again. In this series I will explore the exciting possibilities of the season to come, from the concrete to speculative. I hope that in reading this you gain a little more excitement yourself as the new season edges closer.
World Cup Hype
I’m hoping that the world cup brings some excitement to the game here in the states. The US national team didn’t participate in any particularly thrilling games, but the knockouts were exciting to watch and that may just translate to new supporters of the game locally. I myself am a product of the 2014 world cup. I had been watching the premier league occasionally on Saturday mornings, but the world cup reeled me in. Here’s to more love for the beautiful game this year.
Atlanta United vs Chattanooga FC
Speaking of the world cup, a member of the winning Argentina squad, Thiago Almada, will begin his preseason right here in the scenic city as Atlanta United come to visit. This is a massive, massive game for several reasons:
- First, the above: The first ever active MLS player to win the world cup will be in Chattanooga. If that doesn’t draw the casual fan, I’m not sure what will.
- Atlanta United reached out to us to set the game up. They see Chattanooga as a high potential market, and they see Chattanooga FC as a legitimate club. The reputation CFC has for this size of city and this tier in the soccer pyramid is massive.
- January 28 is EARLY. There are a few subpoints to this. Recruiting will be big. Any player looking for a club will look favorably on a January matchup with an MLS side. This is probably earlier than most teams will even start training. To that note, we have the potential for a very long preseason. Section 109 Podcast did a great interview with CFC head coach Rod Underwood last month where he said we’re still getting started setting up his preferred style of play. Thinking about him having two months to ingrain a higher level of play before the NISA season starts has me excited for what we’re going to see on the field. For reference, the NISA schedule wasn’t even announced until February 3rd last year. That also leaves a good window for more friendlies before NISA starts, which is exactly what we want.
The Squad So Far
Markus Naglestad took the league by storm last season, scoring 19 goals (one every 96 minutes he played!) and winning the golden ball as best player in the league. If ever there was a player to retain in order to challenge for the trophies this season, Markus is the man. Indeed, he was the first announced returner last week and that’s reason enough to be excited for 2023. He is obviously very clinical with the ball, and his presence and reputation often draw an extra defender which leaves extra space for his teammates to work in. Markus is a player to build a winning team around.
I’m confident that Markus could have moved up to the USL Championship if he wanted to, and the fact that he’s already committed to Chattanooga speaks volumes to the city, club, and the project Rod Underwood is building. Something special is going on here.
Speaking of special, signing number two Taylor Gray has some special talent that we’re excited to see again. He played the most minutes of any player in the league last season, and with good reason as he wowed us with incredible technical ability that may be second to none at this level.
Richard Dixon is a very important returner. His presence in the midfield is essential. He can break up play like no one else, which is double important for a team that likes to push forward. Not only that, but his work throughout the organization is important to the club and the city.
It’s always great to see Damian Rodriguez return to the CFC fold. We’ve watched him grow and improve over the last few years, and he pushed his way into the starting eleven many times last season. When he starts dribbling at his opponent you always get the feeling that something magic could happen. Here’s to another season with greater involvement for The Kid!
Alex Jaimes is another player who was in and out of the eleven last season. He has a great work ethic and is solid on the ball. If he continues to improve then we can expect to see great things from him this year as well.
Ethan Koren returns for another year with CFC- we the fans did not get to see much of him last season, but Rod Underwood, who brought him back, did. He too is young with much space to improve so I’m excited to see what he brings to the team this year.
Finally, Joseph Perez is the only new face in the squad so far. He comes from California United Strikers. Not an expected signing by any stretch of the imagination, so we’ll have to see what his role is this year.
All in all, a solid beginning to the 2023 squad, and many more will be announced soon. Many reasons to be excited!
To conclude, I have to tip my hat to Derrall and everyone running the CFC socials. Producing so much content through the offseason has to be difficult but they are putting in the work. Look around at other clubs at this level and no one is even close. California United Strikers hasn’t even tweeted once since they lost in the playoffs. It’s easy to stay excited and engaged with the club when we have a hard working, interactive media team.
There is so much to be excited for. Tell your friends about the game with Atlanta and support your local club. See you at Finley in a month!