Lee soccer players impact Chattanooga FC
Five Lee standout men's soccer players helped Chattanooga FC reach the National Premier Soccer League National Championship this summer. Minor league soccer team Chattanooga FC earned runner-up in the NPSL National Championship and their roster is covered with former and present Lee University men's soccer players.
Chattanooga FC won their conference, and went on to win the semi-final game at home in front of 9,000 fans. The final was played in the major league soccer team New York Red Bull's stadium against the U-23 Red Bull team. They lost the final 3-1, but said they are still proud of their successful season.
Lee had five men's soccer players represented on the roster of Chattanooga. Forward Sias Reyneke, and midfielders Mohamed Aden and Ivan Heredia are all former players. Captain Gabe Franco and goalkeeper Tom Halsall are both juniors for the Flames today.
Reyneke, graduated from Lee in 2013, and made his mark on the season by having eight goals and five assists. As a forward, his role was to create chances in the attack, and score goals when given the opportunity. He also stepped up and impacted the national championship game, despite having a nagging injury.
'My role was the same it had been all season. Just to facilitate the attack and combine with the other forward. I played a part in our first goal to put us up 1-0. I was disappointed I couldn't finish due to injury, but getting the start was a huge honor in such a big stadium,' Reyneke said.
Reyneke had a major impact on Chattanooga FC throughout the year. He earned a starting spot early in the season and kept the spot secure throughout the season. Along with starting throughout the season, Reyneke was given the nod to start in the national championship game.
'Starting in the national championship was an honor. I had earned the starting spot earlier in the year so I had a lot of confidence going into it,' Reyneke said.
Halsall was offered a spot on the team after Chattanooga Head Coach Bill Elliot saw Halsall play in the fall of 2013. Although Halsall backed up NPSL Golden Glove winner Gregory Hartley, Halsall was pleased with his time playing for Chattanooga FC.
'It was an all around good experience and it's helped build my character as well. It was very good and I am doing it again next summer,' Halsall said.
Going into the summer, Halsall knew that he would be the back-up goalkeeper, but he wanted to improve for the sake of his teammates for the Flames.
'It was more of a decision to help Lee, rather than for my playing benefits. It was more to get my kinks out there, and then when I come back to Lee to play, I'm ready to go,' Halsall said.
Halsall hopes to return next season and hopes to be the starting goalkeeper for Chattanooga FC in the upcoming summer.
Franco, captain of the Lee University Flames, felt that playing for Chattanooga was a good experience for him. Although he didn't play as much as he would have liked, he said that he grew as a soccer player and a person.
'I trained with some of the best players in the Gulf South Conference. It was all the best players from the best college teams in the area. Just being there, training with them, was great in and of itself,' Franco said.
The captain of the Flames also said that it helped him develop his leadership for the upcoming fall 2014 season. He feels that he will lead the Flames better because of his experience.
'I just watched their captains lead and I just took a step back and saw what things worked for them and what things didn't work for them as well. So I think overall there's a lot of good things to take away from it,' Franco said.
For these Lee players, former and present, helping Chattanooga to an NPSL National Championship Game was what Reyneke described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. But, losing in a national championship game can leave bad memories for some.
'It left a bitter taste in my mouth to lose in the finals. So for me, that's motivation to come back and see if we can fix that next season and win that last match,' Reyneke said.