The national semi-final of the NPSL presents us with arguably one of the most intriguing matchups in NPSL history. Two of the most successful NPSL clubs will face off for the first time ever in the NPSL playoffs, the Sonoma County Sol and Chattanooga FC. This is Sonoma’s 6th trip to the national semi-finals and Chattanooga’s 5th. With all that playoff success, it is quite surprising that these two clubs have never faced each other in NPSL play.
It is a guarantee that one of these two clubs will make the final, meaning that 7 of the last 8 years going back to the 2009 NPSL season, either Sonoma or Chattanooga will be in the final (the exception being in 2011). If Chattanooga wins, it will be their 5th final in the last 7 years, and their 3rd in a row. However, they will be looking for their first win in the national final, with a current record of 0-4 in national final matches. If Sonoma were to win it would be their 4th ever final, and would give them a chance to be the first NPSL team to win the League title twice in their history, having already won the title once in 2009.
The Sonoma County Sol won the Golden Gate Conference of the West Region on the final weekend of the season to give them a home playoff game to start their playoff run. They would go on to beat the East Bay FC Stompers, the 3rd place team from their Conference, before knocking off North County Battalion at home and previously undefeated Albion Pros on the road, the top two teams from the Southwest Conference, to make the semi finals.
The Sol is lead by two dominant strikers, Diego Lopez and Taylor Varnadore. Lopez led the team with 9 goals and 5 assists in the regular season, and he has contributed 3 more goals in the playoffs, including the game winner vs. Albion Pros in the regional final. Varnadore has also contributed with 3 goals and 2 assists in the playoffs, scoring the winner in both of the first two-playoff matches. The Sol also features a very tactically sound team top to bottom, and has a very organized defense lead by Justin Ferreira.
Chattanooga FC won the Southeast Conference with an impressive 9-0-1 record. They backed up their dominance of the Conference by knocking off both the Knoxville Force and Memphis City FC at home to represent the Southeast Conference yet again at the South Regional semi finals. They then went on to knock off South Central representatives, the Houston Dutch Lions and the Sunshine representatives, one-loss Miami United FC, to win another South Region and reach another national semi-final.
Chattanooga features some of the top players in the League. They are anchored in the back by two-time defending Goal Keeper of the Year, Gregory Hartley, who not only came up with a huge save in the penalty shootout final vs. Miami United in the regional final, he also scored the winning penalty kick. The club’s entire defense as well was near impossible to score against all season, as they allowed just 3 goals against in the NPSL regular season and just 1 in their 4 playoff games thus far.
Chattanooga is not only about defense, as they feature top striker and week 15 NPSL player of the week, forward Luke Winter. Winter has been part of the Club almost since its inception and scored a brace in the regional semi-final vs. the Houston Dutch Lions. Another player to watch is attacking playmaker Samuel Goni, who scored a late winner vs. Memphis to help Chattanooga win the Southeast playoff.
The game will take place this coming Saturday at Findley Stadium in Chattanooga TN. Finley Stadium had more than 10 thousand in attendance for the regional final against Miami United this past Saturday. Finley is home to one of the best supporters groups in all of US Soccer let alone the NPSL, the ChattaHooligans. The fan atmosphere along with the successful history of both of these clubs will make for one of the most exciting NPSL matches in recent memory. All this adds up to the making of a must-watch NPSL match.