Many Chattanoogans remember the excitement that surrounded the US Women’s National soccer team’s game at Finley Stadium last year against Costa Rica where they won 7-2 in front of a record breaking crowd of 20,535. This month there is another opportunity to see another US National Team when US Men’s soccer team makes a stop in Chattanooga on Feb. 3 to play against Jamaica at Finley in a friendly.
Chattanooga is quickly becoming a flourishing market for soccer due to the success of Chattanooga FC, who had an impressive playoff run last summer that ended at home in a 2-1 loss against the Sonoma County Sol. The team also reached the championship game in the summer of 2015 in a final game at Finley Stadium against the New York Cosmos-B in front of the largest crowd for an amateur game at 18,277 fans. The success of the team and the size of these crowds have placed Chattanooga on the map as a prosperous soccer environment.
One of Chattanooga State’s very own instructors, Professor Alonso-Santillana, is an avid Chattanooga FC fan and has plans to attend the US-Jamaica game. He attributed Chattanooga FC’s notoriety in part to a tweet from former US national player Landon Donovan, praising Chattanooga for generating the record-breaking crowd in 2015 when they advanced to the NPSL final. He believes the sponsorship from Volkswagen in 2010 has also created cultural support from the German population in the city.
Prior to attending his first game in Chattanooga, Alonso-Santillana didn’t have incredibly high expectations for a fourth tier team based off his experience watching that level of soccer in Caceres, Spain, but the skill and ability of Chattanooga’s players quickly changed his mind. The team’s roster, made up primarily of college soccer players, includes many international players who have been signed at universities all over the country. This only leaves the summer months for them to play, which serves as a time to stay in condition for soccer once they return to school. With larger cities like Nashville bidding for Major League Soccer teams, the talent of this lower tier team has created a loyal fanbase, though none are quite as loyal as the Chattahooligans. Although Alonso-Santillana doesn’t yet have plans to become a Chattahooligan, he is still impressed by their commitment to the team saying it “requires much more passion,” given the level the team plays at. He describes them as “singing all the time” during the games, similar to fans of teams in higher tier leagues and the songs they sing are ones heard from European fans, but are adapted to fit in Chattanooga.
Alonso-Santillana also expects the game between the Men’s National Team and Jamaica to be competitive despite its status as a friendly. The US team was eliminated by the Jamaicans in 2015 during the semifinals for the Gold Cup and he speculates that there might be a bit of a lingering grudge. With the MLS season set to start soon, big name players like goalie Tim Howard are not likely to appear at the Chattanooga game, but Alonso-Santillana is excited at the prospect of seeing players like Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones both of whom are listed on the team’s camp roster for this game and one against the Serbian team that will be played in San Diego on the 29th. He also says, “[i]t would be great to see US and Mexico” in a future game in Chattanooga. As the city continues to foster a love for soccer, the possibility for that game grows as well the chance for more international teams to play at Fort Finley. And one might, just maybe, catch Professor Alonso-Santillana singing along with the rest of the Chattahooligans, too.