Sitting at a table in a coffee shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a pen in one hand and a cup of decaf in the other, Alex Jaimes’ life changed forever.
The 21-year-old forward from Anaheim, California had spent the weeks prior in Park City, Utah signed with USL League Two side Park City Red Wolves SC with the hope of earning a call up to the professional team in Chattanooga.
Jaimes had just wrapped up day two of a three-day trial with the first team when Red Wolves President and General Manager Sean McDaniel asked to meet with him.
He thought he was being sent home. Little did he know, he’d spent the last 11 years preparing for what was about to occur.
“The first words out of Sean’s mouth were ‘If you accept this offer your life will change forever,’” Jaimes said.
It was official: Jaimes had been offered his very first professional soccer contract with Chattanooga Red Wolves SC.
“I can’t put into words how much this opportunity means to me,” Jaimes said.
And, in a sense, that’s what the Chattanooga Red Wolves are—an opportunity. An opportunity for players to foster their dreams, an opportunity for coaches to teach and develop the next generation of soccer stars and an opportunity for soccer fans in the Chattanooga community to come together and enjoy the beautiful game.
Within the Red Wolves organization, the Chattanooga team is the final step on the club’s path to professional soccer.
According to Red Wolves Head Coach Tim Hankinson, the connection between the professional team and the developmental teams and academies is critical to the long-term success of the organization.
“All of the top clubs all over the world have a developmental pyramid as we do now,” Hankinson said. “The fact that we have these teams and an academy gives those players the opportunity to learn from and train with the professional team.”
Forward Yaya Cisse is an example of another player who came up through the developmental teams and found a home in Chattanooga and a professional contract with the Red Wolves.
The Ivory Coast international joined the first team after an impressive preseason camp with Dalton Red Wolves SC earned him a call up to train, and eventually roster, with the first team.
“It's always been a big dream of mine and for my family to become a pro,” Cisse said. “There were tears but it’s alright.”
He admits that it has been a challenge adjusting to the sharp level of play, but he said it’s a blessing to get to play alongside his talented and experienced teammates.
“To play with the quality players we have is a challenge in the best way,” Cisse said. “I get better every single day.”
Unlike the Dalton and Park City Red Wolves developmental teams, the Chattanooga Red Wolves' first and foremost goal is to challenge for the inaugural USL League One Championship. But team president and general manager Sean McDaniel says the first team also prioritizes making a big impact on the Chattanooga community.
“Beyond the pitch, we want to extend our network in the community,” McDaniel said. “It’s a big draw to come see professional soccer in this city and that’s something that can only have a positive impact on Chattanooga.”
So far, he’s been right.
The Red Wolves recently broke ground on a new soccer-specific stadium in East Ridge that will seat 5,500 Red Wolves faithful. As for now, the team is enjoying a great start to its inaugural season and remains undefeated in front of the home fans at David Stanton Field.
Jaimes, Cisse and the rest of the Chattanooga Red Wolves Squad now turn their attention to their next match against FC Tucson on Saturday, July 27 as they continue the pursuit of a league championship title in their inaugural season. But win or lose, these players are grateful for the club and the chance to do what they love.
“This is professional soccer,” Jaimes said. “It’s the dream.”