Who: Sacramento Gold FC (12-3-1) vs. Chattanooga FC (12-2-2)
What: NPSL national semifinal
When: Tonight, 7:30
Where: Finley Stadium
Luke Winter wishes things could have been different this week.
Since the National Premier Soccer League playoffs began two weeks ago, Winter and his Chattanooga Football Club teammates have gone through a routine -- practices during the week, matches Friday and Saturday.
Now it's one weekend match per surviving team.
With only four teams remaining, the league decided to have the two with the highest seeds -- the New York Red Bulls U-23 team and Chattanooga FC -- host national semifinals, with the national final to be held next week at a site to be determined.
At least this week's wait to play is about over.
CFC (12-2-2) will face Sacramento FC tonight at 7:30 at Finley Stadium. Lansing United visits New York.
The Chattanooga team has tried to handle this week like any other, yet while its practice schedule didn't change much, there have been some differences. Goalkeeper Greg Hartley, the NPSL player of the week, threw out the first pitch at the Chattanooga Lookouts game Thursday to teammate John Carrier, then won a match of musical chairs the same evening at AT&T Field by sweeping one of the bean bags from under Niall McCabe in the final of the hotly contested event.
But the focus since the club's 2-0 win over Tulsa Athletics has remained on the next match.
"As soon as we finished the Tulsa match, we were ready for the next stage," Winter said. "It's a shame that they split up the rounds this week, but we've embraced it and the city has been great to us."
Hartley said the biggest challenge this week was just making sure that nobody was injured in practices.
"We don't know much about Sacramento, but we feel like if we play like we're capable of playing, we'll be OK," he said.
The only other encounter between the two clubs was in the 2010 national final, which Sacramento won 3-1. Almost all of the players from both clubs have changed since then, and to make things more difficult for the home side, Sacramento doesn't stream its matches online.
The Gold are 13-3-1 and won the West Region, and their leading scorers are forward Jason Jones and midfielder Manola Pina, but figuring out much else about the club is difficult. Attempts to reach coach Ruben Mora Jr. this week were unsuccessful.
"I've tried to call some contacts of mine out in California, but they don't know much about them, either," CFC coach Bill Elliott said. "We just have to try to be shape and try to score multiple goals and hope to get some big saves by Greg in critical moments.
"We're just going to worry about us."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.