Chattanooga Pro Soccer has been announced as a founding member of USL Division III, but not everyone in the local soccer community is thrilled by the news.
As it prepares to begin play in the 2019 season, the upcoming USL D3 is in the midst of filling out its initial slate of teams. The latest addition to that mix is the new Chattanooga club, which will be backed by business executive Robert (Bob) Martino.
Chattanooga represents an addition to USL D3’s Southeast contingent, which already includes South Georgia Tormenta FC (Statesboro, Georgia) and Greenville Pro Soccer (Greenville, South Carolina), and will likely grow as more clubs are announced. It also marks the entry of professional soccer into a growing city that is already home to Minor League Baseball’s Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League).
This week’s announcement of Chattanooga Pro Soccer was certainly a boost to USL D3, but the news was not met with enthusiasm within some circles of the local soccer scene. Chattanooga features Chattanooga FC, an organization that has fielded a successful club in the National Premier Soccer League league for years. It has previously explored options for moving up to pro soccer, but has not made that transition thus far. The arrival of a new pro soccer team to Chattanooga that will operate as a separate organization was met with backlash via social media by supporters of Chattanooga FC, and one of the club’s co-founders has been critical of USL D3. More from the Times Free Press:
“This reminds me of that New Coke announcement,” one Twitter user said, referring to the mid-80s campaign to replace the original formula of Coca-Cola. Less than three full months later, Coca-Cola announced it was bringing the old formula back.
A parody account on Twitter with the handle @CarpetbaggerSC has already been created and is joining in on the backlash against a new soccer team.
CFC had flirted with the opportunity to move up to the professional ranks, with the National Independent Soccer Association looked at as a viable option last year, but that league was never able to get off the ground. That left the USL as the only other market available at the Division III level, and CFC co-founder Tim Kelly has been outspoken in his distrust of the league, repeatedly saying it’s “not a sustainable model.”
Late Wednesday evening, CFC released a statement, stating it remained committed to “keeping Chattanooga FC as Chattanooga’s homegrown team.”
Nevertheless, the plans for Chattanooga Pro Soccer are moving forward. The club is expected to reveal more details in the coming months, and will do so at a public event.
“This is a fantastic opportunity and watershed moment for soccer fans in Chattanooga,” Martino said in a press statement. “This market has proven that it has the right ingredients to launch and sustain a professional franchise, and we are excited to take this next step into USL Division III for fans and the community. I applaud the existing grassroots support and passionate fan base already in place in the city, and I welcome the opportunity for us to work together to realize the great vision for professional soccer in Chattanooga. Our goal is to build upon the remarkable soccer history that has been created here, and establish a professional club of which both fans and our community can be proud – one that will make a lasting contribution to what makes this city great.”
“The professional USL Division III provides a great platform for Chattanooga to enter the highest ranks of soccer and further strengthens the Southeast region for the new league as we put the final touches on our exciting inaugural season,” Steven Short, Senior Vice President of USL Division III, said in a press statement. “Bob Martino and his team are seasoned executives with a strong vision for the future of soccer in Chattanooga. We share their vision for the city and look forward to working with Bob and his team as they bring the thrill and excitement of professional soccer to Chattanooga.”