With the end of the USA's run in the World Cup, it would have been understandable if soccer fans were to wallow in privacy on Saturday evening, but a large crowd of the Valley's soccer fans came out to support their local side, Rocket City United, in a crucial NPSL Southeast Region league match against Chattanooga FC as the clubs drew 1:1.
Nearly 900 fans filled the Madison City Schools Stadium and witnessed a back and forth affair that was dominated for large portions of the match by CFC. The Blue's attacking tandem of Chris Ochieng and Luis Salazar harried the RCU backline for 70 minutes. It was only the goalkeeping heroics of Mike "Goose" Gustavson who saved RCU's "goose" on multiple occasions. However, CFC dangerous duo finally broke through in the 65th minute when good work around the top of the penalty area allowed Salazar to run free near the endline. Salazar picked out Ochieng in front of the gaping net for tap in finish and the 1:0 lead.
CFC prepared to batten down the hatches with RCU pushing for an equalizer. It was forward Andrew Nkurunungi who was the catalyst for RCU when the second dubious penalty in as many games with CFC was awarded to RCU. In their last meeting in 2009 in Chattanooga, a 90th minute "phantom" penalty was awarded to RCU. In that case, the soccer gods righted the misdeed as CFC goalkeeper Richard Masters saved the spot kick.
In the 75th minute of last night's match, Nkurunungi latched on to a ball in the penalty area and went down under what looked like incidental contact from the CFC's Russell Courtney. Referee, Steve Walker, who had allowed several nasty challenges to go uncalled throughout the night, blew for the spotkick to the dismay of the CFC bench and players alike. Alexi Munro slotted the penalty home as CFC's Richard Masters had guessed to the wrong side.
The goal gave RCU life and for the final 10 minutes, RCU were the more dangerous side. In the 87th minute, RCU nearly took home the full three points when RCU left back Jacob Letsholo's header crashed off the crossbar.
In the end, the teams split the points and CFC remains 3 points ahead of RCU in the standings.