The fairy tale did not have a perfect ending, but it sure came close.
Amateur club Chattanooga FC played their National Premier Soccer League championship game on Saturday night at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's 20,000-capacity Finley Stadium. When they took the field against New York Cosmos B, they were roared on by a crowd of 18,227, reportedly the largest crowd ever to see an amateur club soccer game in the US.
Unfortunately for the assembled masses, Chattanooga FC came up short in the championship final of the United States' fourth-tier league for the fourth time in the last six years, losing 3-2 in extra time. Despite the loss, Chattanooga's fans once again took center stage.
"We all want to cry now, but when we look back tomorrow morning or Monday we all should smile, because [hosting the NPSL title match] happened," Chattanooga FC head coach Bill Elliott told The Chattanoogan. "I never thought I would see 18,000 for one of our matches, but we had great support all season."
Chattanooga finished 17-3-1, winning the Hank Steinbrecher Cup as the nation's top amateur team and losing all three games to either professional clubs (Atlanta in the US Open Cup) or professional reserve teams (Atlanta in the regular season, Cosmos B in the final). In last year's final, played at Red Bull Arena, Chattanooga FC fell 3-1 to the New York Red Bulls' U-23 team, who moved to the PDL this year and lost in that championship game.C
Cosmos B, meanwhile, coached by former MLS star Alecko Eskandarian, entered the game unbeaten, with the final moved to Chattanooga due to the potential for just such a crowd.
“The crowd was incredible," Eskandarian told the Cosmos website. "They made it feel like we were playing 19,000 players. They brought their team back to life when they were down. That's why we agreed to play the final here. I wanted our players to be tested and find out who could rise above.”
The Cosmos B squad included former FC Dallas goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck, former Colorado Rapids defender John Neeskens and former New York Red Bulls midfielder Ruben Bover.