Damian Rodriguez had a very different experience on Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium than he is used to.

The 20-year-old former Dalton High School football superstar was a deciding factor in Chattanooga Football Club’s stunning 3-3 draw against Atlanta United FC in Major League Soccer in the pre-season game.

In the 44th minute, he set up the exhibition equalizer and final goal, faking a right-flank defender, speeding into the box and sending a pass to Alex McGrath through the legs of an incoming sliding tackler to score. Earned. come close.

It was Rodriguez’s second assist in a 45-minute substitution, coming against Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan, who has played for the United States in two World Cups.

“It was such an amazing experience playing Atlanta United,” Rodriguez said. It felt surreal and wonderful that they wanted a game and a picture and an autograph for their fans to recognize me later.”

Atlanta only dropped one regular starter in the first half. Thiago’s Armada became the first active MLS player to reach a World Cup final last month. Armada, 21, was called up by three-time World Cup winners Argentina to replace an injured player just before the start of the tournament in Qatar.

Saturday’s final results were special for CFC, which started as an amateur club in 2009 and switched to professional status in 2020. The National Independent Football Association had won 13-1 on aggregate in his three previous meetings with Atlanta.

Fans flooded Finley Stadium with Saturday’s attendance of 7,513, the seventh-highest in CFC history and the largest since the club’s 4-0 loss to Atlanta in the 2017 preseason match when 12,484 were on hand. was.

“Our club is ambitious,” said CFC second-year coach Rod Underwood. “If we had the chance to host a team of this level, we would love to put on a show for the city. but this club is one of the top 3 I have ever been to.

“Today was a great example of why Chattanooga is a special place for football.”

CFC were on tiptoe against a majority of Atlanta’s starting eleven in the first half — both first units were replaced by younger players after scoreless seconds — Underwood and CFC’s players said their club’s I was hesitant to say that I was close to the same level as my opponent.

Atlanta won the MLS Cup for the second season in 2018 and was the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup champion in 2019.

“It’s a difficult question to answer whether we have players who can play at MLS level,” Underwood said. “The reality is they have a very good team with high-level players. Some of them have played in the World Cup and the biggest clubs in South America. I don’t know if they will measure up to that. not.

“But I believe that any player, in any environment, will grow because of what we are doing here. How far will they grow? Only you know.”

Still, a friendly draw could provide a glimpse into CFC’s dominant NISA season, which finished second in the regular season standings last year and lost in the semi-finals.

Rodriguez continually broke down the right side of Atlanta’s defense and assisted McGrath alongside Markus Nagrestad.

“I’ve worked my whole life to be a professional soccer player,” Rodriguez said. When I’m in a game, I just mentally focus on what’s going on around me and I just want to win.

Nagrestad also shows no signs of slowing down. A winner of NISA’s Golden Boot with 20 goals last season, he scored the first goal in the seventh minute before drawing again at two in the 27th minute.

Atlanta scored two goals from Luis Araujo and another from Machop Chol.

“It was great to play against a team with MLS superstars,” said Naglestad. “Hopefully this will bring more support to our team and hopefully displays like today will bring back a lot of people.

“Who else at our level would have the opportunity to play for a team like this? We have a great platform and the care and treatment at this level is unparalleled.”

Patrick MacCoon can be reached at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com.


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