There are 82 teams in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), but only two finished the regular season with an undefeated record. A third is inching towards that same goal with just two league matches remaining.
Chattanooga FC and Albion SC Pros went undefeated in the regular season and are already preparing for the playoffs this weekend. Both sides claimed a conference title. It was Chattanooga’s fifth consecutive title and Albion’s first. The main difference is that Chattanooga has been the standard-bearer in the NPSL for years while Albion is an expansion team that has experienced unprecedented success.
Chattanooga FC finished the regular season with a 9-0-1 record, which was an incredible accomplishment even for a club that played in the national title match last season. But it was not an easy journey; Chattanooga does play in the ultracompetitive Southeast Conference after all.
“Our starting keeper and two-time NPSL Keeper of the Year, Greg Hartley, was injured in our seventh league match, and he has missed our last three matches, but we’re hoping for a speedy recovery,” CFC General Manager Sean McDaniel commented. “Tom Halsall has done an excellent job of stepping up into the starting goalkeeper position. We also lost a couple players due to school and family commitments, which we totally understand, but that’s where our depth of talent has been a true asset.”
A 1-0 win over the New Orleans Jesters on the road was a huge match, a turning point of sorts for Chattanooga FC. Hartley was called upon late in the game and made two incredible saves that should have been goals for New Orleans. Simply put, CFC was fortunate to walk away with all three points.
Collecting points and winning games was a result of dominant play; Chattanooga did outscore their opponents 21-3. Their offense was tops in the Southeast as was their absolutely stingy defense.
Veteran striker Luke Winter led the team with six goals and one assist, while Hartley and defender Jake Young serve as the backbone of Chattanooga’s stout defense. Hartley allowed only two goals in seven league games for a 0.29 GAA. Young made nine starts for CFC.
Having the support of many has also made a difference for Chattanooga FC. It has made Finley Stadium a fortress, an intimidating place for visiting teams. At the same time, Finley has proven to be an oasis for passionate supporters.
“Home field advantage to us is everything,” McDaniel added. “Our supporters group, the Chattahooligans, are as good as a 12th man on the pitch, and our 5-0-0 home record in league play proves that. When we get 5,000 or 10,000 or however many fans packed into Finley Stadium, the home field advantage is undeniable.”
Albion SC Pros (8-0-4) shares many of the winning traits that you’ll find with Chattanooga, but the most impressive thing is that they are an expansion team that is less than eight months old. Simply put, Albion has put together a winner and they have done it quickly.
“Going undefeated in the regular season and winning the conference championship is a massive accomplishment,” Ian Cook, head of marketing for Albion SC Pros, commented. “It is a testament to all the great work by the Albion Pros coaching staff and players to put the hard work in day after day. This organization committed to a vision of winning a national championship back in December and to foster an undefeated, hard-working culture. Now the real test begins with the playoffs coming up.”
Albion got to the playoffs with an incredible attack (30 goals) and a stout defense (eight goals conceded). Fans, supporters, and media were quick to recognize the performance of a number of Albion players.
“Matt Clare and David Luquen have both been pretty consistent up front in producing goals for us this year when necessary,” Albion SC Pros head coach Ziggy Korytoski added. “Felipe Liborio and Luis Cardona have done so many things in the midfield that don’t show up on the score sheet. And our defensive unit led by goalkeeper Jean Antoine has used so many combinations of players to contribute to the best defense in the West Region.”
Korytoski credits many for the team’s success, knowing that it is not one player or one coach that puts a team on the path to incredible success.
“The entire club from players, staff, and volunteers to the San Diego community in general has done a fantastic job in putting Albion Pros on the map during our first year. To be able to play with ‘home field advantage’ should energize our guys knowing that we have the support of The Deep End and San Diego behind us. We have some of the best fans in the country and love to entertain them with great soccer.”
Like Chattanooga, Albion turns its attention to the postseason and has high expectations for success there.
“This team has been working and preparing to make a deep run in the playoffs from day one,” Korytoski concluded. “The commitment from the guys has been fantastic and the buy-in to the culture second to none. This culture has been created around accountability, execution, and consistency. I would expect nothing less throughout our run in the playoffs.”
A team that is undefeated but won’t be playing in the postseason is the Milwaukee Torrent, a team that is dominating the Midwest Central Conference. The Torrent have a 4-0-0 record in the conference, but have a total of eight wins when you factor in friendlies and exhibitions.
Owner and head coach Andy Davi says that they are a new program and are taking baby steps in their NPSL journey. But the team has already risen to the top of the conference thanks to a perfect record in league play. Davi is happy with the team’s performance this season.
“With all the work everybody puts in and all the preparation you never really know what the outcome will be until you play. By having an unbeaten record it shows that our hard work pays off.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the Torrent are loaded with lots of amazing talent.
It all starts with forward James Weber, who leads the team with seven goals and five assists. Weber is a Renaissance man, someone who is an author and motivational speaker in addition to being a world-class athlete. He is the team’s captain and leader and brings years of experience as a professional in Sweden.
Midfielder Declan Rodriguez (five goals and one assist) and forward Ian Bennett (four goals and four assists) provide an additional scoring punch. The latter has been a star in the indoor circuit for years, having played for the Milwaukee Wave since 2009. He also has experience with six other clubs in the U.S. and Canada.
The defense is anchored by a dynamic duo of goalkeepers named Nick Barry and Matt Eisold.
All of these players have helped Milwaukee outscore their opponents 20-2.
No wonder the Torrent has become one of the hottest tickets in the Milwaukee sports scene. They play an exciting style of soccer where goals, a lot of them, are actually scored. The support has been tremendous, according to Davi.
“For us we didn’t know what to expect because it’s a brand new club. It’s absolutely fantastic how the community supports us, much more then what we expected. Many teams are not used in playing in front of several hundred or a thousand people. Plus the supporter groups, with chants and everything, make it a big advantage for us.”
As you can see, Chattanooga FC, Albion SC Pros, and Milwaukee Torrent are all teams that have experienced tremendous success on and off the pitch, blazing a trail for others to follow.
Photo Credit: Ray Soldano, Keith and Michelle Dereld, and Milwaukee Torrent