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FC Sonic Are NPSL Champions
FC Sonic Are NPSL Champions | National Premier Soccer League, 2012 NPSL Championship, FC Sonic, Chattanooga FC, Dan Trainor

FC Sonic celebrate Tucker Sandercock's goal in their 1-0 victory over Chattanooga FC in the 2012 NPSL Championship final. Photo Credit: Stephen Prendergast

Soccer News: FC Sonic Pull out 1-0 Win over Chattanooga SC to Take NPSL Title in San Diego

On a warm, sunny day in San Diego two teams from the East met to determine the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) 2012 Champion. FC Sonic from Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and Chattanooga FC (CFC) from Tennessee had battled their way through the regular season, regional playoffs and two exciting playoff matches to reach the finals. After all that, 90 minutes would determine who went home at the top.

Both teams opened strong, jockeying for position on the field and feeling out their opponent to determine how best to attack. Sonic made the first move, with an early test shot against Chattanooga’s goalkeeper Greg Hartley who handled it easily. Play moved back and forth for the next 20 minutes before CFC’s Nate Hodges fired from 20 yards out. Sonic’s Charlie Sales, the NPSL Goalkeeper of the Year, easily turned the shot away and the game continued.

Sonic pulled off three more attacks of their own before the half hour mark, but each time Hartley was able to handle the shot. In the 34th minute Sonic’s Jordie Ciuffetelli fired a spectacular mid-air shot at goal from 10 yards out, but the ball just missed. Then shortly before the half ended Sonic’s Ryan Jones went down hard in the attacking box and had to be subbed out for Josh Brown.

The half ended with a 0-0 tie, but the period had been anything but dull. Both Sonic and CFC had held nearly equal possession, although the Pennsylvanians had gotten the better chances.

Chattanooga FC's booster group the "Chattahooligans" kept up their chants throughout the game.

Throughout the game Sonic, who are sponsored by the popular drive-through restaurant, came in for some good-natured kidding by CFC’s brash and boisterous booster club, the “Chattahooligans.” The group numbers into the hundreds at home games, and about a dozen of the loyal followers made the trek to San Diego to support their team. Several times during the match the Chattahooligans broke out with a series of chants beginning with “Take our order” and continuing through a list of items usually found on the Sonic restaurant menu.

The second half opened with Sonic on the offensive once again. In their playoff match against Madison 56ers they had come to life after the break, netting both goals in their 2-0 victory. The team clearly hoped to repeat that effort. Likewise, CFC wanted to repeat their results from the first half of their semifinal when they took a 2-0 lead against Bay Area Ambassadors, en route to a 3-2 win.

As the match wore on and neither side was able to crack the opposing defense, play became more physical and several fouls and a pair of yellow cards were called. Both Hartley and Sales were called on for saves to keep the game scoreless as the sun sapped the strength of everyone on the pitch. With more players available, the Sonic were able to keep more fresh legs on the field as the match wore on.

The break for Sonic finally came at the 79-minute mark. A corner kick found Tucker Sandercock at the back post and he was able to head the ball in with no chance for Hartley to save it.

Chattanooga FC goalkeeper Greg Hartley lunges in vain for Tucker Sandercock's header in the 79th minute of the NPSL Championship match.

“My job was to go to the back post to make sure the ball didn’t come through,” Sandercock explained. “It got held up pretty nice and I pretty much jumped over my defender and headed it into the goal. It was great.”

The team had little time to celebrate, however, as CFC charged down the field on the restart. A collision just outside the box resulted in a Chattanooga free kick, which was taken by Paul Reynolds. However, Sales showed he was not the Goalkeeper of the Year for naught, organizing his wall perfectly to cut down on the angle and placing defender Kevin Strunk in line with the far post.  The planning paid off when Strunk was able to head the ball over the goal to prevent a score.

“We made sure to put Kevin in line with the ball to the far post and he did a great job,” Sales explained. “He got his head on it and that’s exactly what he needed to do.”

Both sides continued to put pressure on their opponents, but neither was able to finish an attack. When time finally ran out and the referee’s whistle sounded, FC Sonic and their fans erupted in celebration. Within minutes, after congratulating Chattanooga on a game well played, the champagne was flowing over both players and field as the team danced to the music of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.”

After the presentation of the first and second place trophies to the two teams, FC Sonic Head Coach David Weitzman talked about the match and the team’s strategy against a talented Chattanooga team.

“We came out in the first fifteen minutes and I thought we had good possession of the ball and did some good things,” Weitzman said. “Then we kind of hit a brick wall and Chattanooga was looking good with their one-two combos and took the next ten minutes to us. But from the 35th minute on in the first half until the final five minutes I thought we were real good.”

“At halftime we talked about winning the central midfield battle,” Weitzman explained, “and I thought Mattie Baker, James Graf and Ali Famili did a wonderful job winning those 1v1 battles, the 2v1s the 2v2s that we stress so much.”

Weitzman also had high praise for his defense, which had only surrendered four goals all season. “You can’t say enough about our back line,” he said. “Jordie Ciuffetelli, Kevin Strunk, Pat LeTourneau, Josh Brown who filled in today for Ryan Jones and has done a wonderful job all year, and then Charlie Sales behind them. You’re talking about a team that, out of 16 games, had twelve shutouts. Twelve shutouts in sixteen games is remarkable. I’ve never been around anything like that in my life.”

“I think pinning our opponent back on their heels as much as possible [was the key to the game],” Weitzmen said. “We stressed about getting our backs up a little bit and our flanks staying as high as possible because we wanted to keep them pinched back and on their heels and just gain as much territory as we could.”

General Manager Matt McTish gave a lot of the credit for the team’s success to Weitzman’s ability to develop a team. “I knew from the beginning of the season that Coach had put together a team that was going to be even better than the teams he’s had in the past,” he explained. “He has a great eye for talent.”

McTish also credits the team for their belief in themselves and their commitment to working hard.  “There’s no one that’s thinking they’re better than anyone else on the team,” he explained. “They all work together. Every one of them thinks that they make a contribution. I think they’re as ‘blue-collar’ as you can get.”

Champagne flows as FC Sonic celebrate their victory in the 2012 NPSL Championships. NPSL Commissioner Dan Trainor (R) presents the NPSL Championship trophy to FC Sonic Coach David Weitzman.

Dan Trainor, NPSL Commissioner, had high praise for both teams and for the match, saying, “It was one of the most exciting games we’ve had as a final for a long time. Both teams easily could have won. The Chattanooga fans helped spur their team on, but in the end they couldn’t quite finish it up.”

“It was a great game,” said Sonic goalkeeper Sales. “Both teams played their hearts out. It’s a great result and I’m speechless. Our guys played fantastic. We defended really well. They limited us to a lot of half-chances and we put one of them away.”

“FC Sonic did a very good job showing a first-time win for them,” said Commissioner Trainor. “This is our eighth final and we’ve had eight unique winners. We haven’t had anyone able to come back and defend, which shows the level of quality of play in the league. We’re looking forward to next season.”

The 2012 National Premier Soccer League Champions FC Sonic

All photo credit: Stephen Prendergast

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