Why I’m Excited for the 2023 Season (1/n)

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

Courtesy of chattanoogafc.com

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!

The Socials

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!

My Way-Too-Early 2022 NISA Season Predictions

It’s here! NISA has finally published the 2022 schedule. This gives us insight into the format of the competition, the notable absence of Chicago House AC and New Amsterdam FC, and four new clubs.

Every team will play home and away with teams from the opposite coast and home and away twice with those on the same coast (East- CFC, Maryland, Michigan, Syracuse, Flower City; West- Cal Utd, LA Force, Bay City, Valley Utd, Albion). That’s a total of 26 games a piece.

In anticipation of the new season, I’ve scrolled through Twitter, looked at results from the last few seasons, judged Wikipedia pages, and racked my brain to predict the outcome of the coming 2022 season. There are four big battles I’ll be looking at:

The Battle for First: California United Strikers vs LA Force

Detroit City FC absolutely dominated last season, but with Le Rouge moving onwards to the USL Championship, the top spot in NISA is up for grabs. Looking back at last season’s results, team forms, and playing styles, California United and LA Force stood out to me as the most likely to take the NISA pole position. These two were the only others capable of finding relatively consistent form throughout the season. They both like to press high, not letting the opposition get out of their own half. Cal United and LA Force tended to play with more of a β€œshoot-on-sight” offense compared to a Detroit side who played really selflessly and maturely in creating fewer, high-quality chances. However, there’s no reason this strategy won’t work again for last year’s second and third placed teams. Both are already publicly training in the preseason, but California edges first for me because of how sleek that Taco Bell sponsor looks and because LA Force has just swapped managers.

The Battle for the East: Chattanooga FC, Maryland Bobcats FC, Michigan Stars FC

I think this is going to be the best battle in NISA for 2022 (maybe I’m a little biased). Chattanooga FC and Maryland Bobcats are two of the best run clubs in terms of overall brand, media presence, etc., and will be hoping that translates into results on the pitch. I was there for that first match between the two sides when Zeca slammed the crossbar from a bicycle kick with one of his last touches as a pro and one of our better rivalries was born. Throwing Michigan Stars into the mix, these now seasoned and competitive NISA teams will have a great battle for what I’m guessing will be 3rd-5th spots in the league. Since each team plays the others four times, results within this mini league will reflect right onto the overall standings. I think Rod Underwood and crew coming over from Stumptown will give Chattanooga FC the edge and a third-place finish.

One More Playoff Spot: Albion San Diego, Flower City Union, Valley United

I know that the season will end with playoffs, and I thought I had read that the top six teams would be participating. I can’t find any details on the playoffs posted now, so I may have read that of a previous season, but consider this another prediction: a six team playoff would be a very NISA move. (Update: this is the official format, no maybe about it) One more team will get to dance and it’s hard to guess which one it will be. So far most teams have released very little in terms of personnel. A few of them have released little in terms of anything. I’m giving Albion San Diego a chance because they know what NISA play is like (albeit they did terrible last season- third most consistent form in the league behind Detroit and Cal Utd, except mostly L’s instead of W’s). Flower City Union seems to have a decent setup, sliding into the void left by the Rochester Rhinos a few years ago and affiliating with NPSL side Rochester Lancers. Valley United has experience in the USPL, participated in the Independent Cup last year, and has a U23 side in NISA Nation. I think Valley United have the best chance of the new clubs to break into the playoffs.

Playing for Pride: Albion San Diego, AC Syracuse, Bay Cities FC

Somebody has to come in last, but no one wants to do it. I anticipate these teams playing for pride this season where every point will count. Can the Albion improve on last season’s form? Will Syracuse and Bay Cities find eleven players? Really hard to tell. I can just imagine newly formed Bay Cities getting battered every other week by Cal Utd and LA Force. I don’t have to imagine that happening to Albion because we saw it last season (didn’t grab a single point off their fellow Californians). And finally, the Pulse will be seen as a necessary three points by the other teams in the East jostling for third. Once again, we know so little about these teams that it’s hard to predict much about them.

My Final Standings Prediction

  1. California United Strikers
  2. LA Force
  3. Chattanooga FC
  4. Maryland Bobcats FC
  5. Michigan Stars FC
  6. Valley United
  7. Flower City Union
  8. Albion San Diego
  9. AC Syracuse
  10. Bay Cities FC

So much can change before the season starts though. If Chattanooga FC sign Robert Lewandowski or some American equivalent then the game changes. As the title says, it’s way too early to guess. Go ahead and bookmark this page so you can come back and be impressed in six months. You heard it here first. Thanks for reading.