If there was ever a team that Flower City Union didn’t want to have to play in the playoffs, it would have to be Chattanooga FC. After winning their first game against CFC in 2022, they’ve gone over the last 2 seasons to lose 5 matches while drawing 1. This CFC team includes the back-to-back 2022 and 2023 NISA Golden Boot (most goals) and Golden Gloves (most clean sheets) winners Markus Naglestad and Jean Antoine. They didn’t lose a single game all season until September and only lost 2 matches on their route to the regular season title and a bye for the first round of the playoffs. The most recent meeting of these teams saw Chattanooga beating Flower City in Rochester to clinch the regular season title. If ever a game on paper was to go one team’s way, it was all against Flower City Union. Coming off the back of a huge upset of third place LA Force, FCU showed why they should never be counted out.
The previous match-ups between these two teams saw FCU unable to ever muster much of an offense. They were scoreless against CFC all season, and my memory has trouble even recalling having a shot or corner kicks. This game, something was different though. It was easily their best offensive performance against CFC all season. While CFC had more of the possession in the opening minutes, the FCU defense was great at shutting them down. It was not until the 14th minute that the first shot came, and that was one that FCU took. Whenever CFC had possession, they couldn’t get it past defenders Mumbi Kwesele, Noah Cavanaugh, Kyle Nelson, and Stephen Elias. The first real chance for either team came in the 21st minute, when CFC keeper Antoine sent the ball far up field, tipped up further by Naglestad, to a breaking Alex Mcgrath. FCU defender Angelo Calfo made a fantastic run to help trip up Mcgrath so he was unable to get a breakaway, without giving up a foul.
Former CFC player Luke Ferreira created chances in the 27th minute when he took the ball down to the end line and tried to cross it in front of the net, but it was cleared out for a corner kick. The corner kick was unable to be picked up by Alioune Diakhate and went just over the crossbar. The 32nd minute is the first time that the clear Man of the Match made his presence known. Goalkeeper Michael Mejia had a perfect game, and coming out to take the ball off the feet of CFC’s attacker was his first real involvement in what easily became his game of the season. 30 seconds before stoppage time saw his next major contribution, as a free kick from 23 yards out curled around the wall, for Mejia to make a jumping save to tip it over the top corner of the net. The better chances of the half had been Chattanooga’s, but it was the best Flower City Union had played against them all year, and showed they weren’t going to just sit back defensively.
Chattanooga came out strong in the second half, with the first 5 minutes seeing Mejia making a save and getting crashed into by an attacker, followed by the trainer coming out to check on him. A minute later a shot from Richard Dixon was right on Mejia for a good save. FCU’s first chance of the half came a few minutes later when Matt Bolduc took the ball into the CFC box. The pass to Elias gave him a lot of time to think and try to open a shot, but CFC’s defending was perfect, and the ball was blocked harmlessly. The 68th minute saw Flower City’s first substitution of the night. Josue Cartagena in the middle of defense had been rock solid, but he was subbed out for attacker Malik Stewart, who has finished the season on a high. It seemed like it wasn’t going to be pure defending, but taking it to Chattanooga instead.
The closest either team came all night was in the 77th minute, with a free kick from Naglestad. Mejia made another jumping punch to send the ball over the net and out for a corner kick. The resulting corner kick saw the ball curling towards the back corner, but another fingertip save kept it out of the net. The throw-in led to Naglestad ending up with the ball at the back post, but again Mejia had it covered, with the shot going off the side netting. It was a tense minute or two for FCU, but the game remained scoreless thanks to the defending and keeping by FCU. Mejia kept playing out of his mind, in the 84th minute when he dove for a shot that didn’t make its way through on goal. When it did come, he barely scrambled up high enough to knock it away, but the rebound was then put off the crossbar a second later after a scramble. Another fingertip save came in the 89th minute off a curling corner kick by Naglestad. FCU’s best chance of the half came right before stoppage time, with an attack by Stewart passed to Diakhate in the box, but the ball was defended and CFC keeper Antoine was down for an extended period of time, thankfully he was fine. The team that was supposed to walk through the playoffs and the team that was supposed to be out in the first round headed to two overtime periods.
The first 15-minute overtime went as much of the game had gone, with not much attack by Flower City, but also not much by Chattanooga. It was clear that both teams were tiring. The only real chance saw Mejia coming out, with a CFC player taking the ball around him, but losing it to a defender, then the rebound coming to nothing. The opening of the second overtime saw FCU’s best chances in a while. A corner kick resulted in Stephen Elias with a header that went just over the crossbar. Alioune Diakhate had not been an attacking threat, not due to his play, but because FCU did not have as much offense as they’d like, but he was good at going back and helping defend this game. He finally saw two good chances in this second period, although both were sent over the goal. Because they couldn’t let the game go without making it too tense, after controlling play for most of the second period, the 13th minute saw sustained control by CFC, culminating in a shot being put off the crossbar. After 120 minutes, the game was still scoreless.
Anyone reading this far knows the outcome of the game, so I’m not going to recount the penalty kicks in depth, but for history’s sake will have to mention them all:
Chattanooga’s Anatolie Prepelita: Miss, off the crossbar
FCU’s Luke Ferreira: Miss, saved with a dive to the right side of goal
Chattanooga’s Markus Naglestad: Miss, saved with a dive to the left side of the goal
FCU’s Noah Cavanaugh: Goal, keeper dove the wrong way, easy shot into left side
Chattanooga’s Jesus Ibarra: Miss, off the top right post/crossbar corner
FCU’s Matt Bolduc: Miss, right side shot saved, bounced off the post
Chattanooga’s Alex Mcgrath: Miss, saved with a dive to the right side
FCU’s Aioune Diakhate: Goal, keeper dove, shot top center
I mentioned multiple times how well the defense and goalkeeping was, but that couldn’t have come without midfielders Matt Bolduc and Logan Lee. Markus Naglestad was the top scorer in the league, on the team with the most goals in the league, and thanks to FCU’s midfield play, the offense was nearly ineffective all match. They may not have the glory of the late stops in front of goal, but they were essential in the win. It was a hell of a team performance, beating a team that was considered the entire season most likely to win the league. With his saves to keep a clean sheet, some of them being absolutely spectacular, I will let Man of the Match Michael Mejia have the last word: “This one was for y’all back home. Thank you for the support all season. Job ain’t done. Let’s go get an upset in Michigan.”