Juan Hernandez emerging as a key Chattanooga FC player

Chattanooga Football Club's John Davidson, left, and Juan Hernandez fight their way in as Reading United AC's Aguilar Calzada heads the ball Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at Finley Stadium.

Juan Hernandez was a late addition to the Chattanooga Football Club roster in 2015, and although he showed flashes of what he could do when on the pitch, a deep roster limited his chances to get on the field.

This season, with the former Bethel University standout around for a full year, he's getting his opportunities - and taking advantage of them.

Hernandez has been a key player from his midfielder spot. He's started as well as come off the bench, and he had two goals and a couple of assists going into the team's match late Saturday night in New Orleans against the Jesters.

Chattanooga FC plays Thursday at Nashville but will be home next Saturday to face the Birmingham Hammers in the National Premier Soccer League "game of the week."

"Juan has been great. I don't think there's any question he's in our top 11," CFC coach Bill Elliott said after last week's win over Knoxville. "He's been out with a couple of health issues - him and Luke (Winter) - so we're making sure we bring them back at the right pace. Not too much too quick."

That could be important, because every time Hernandez steps on the field, he's making something happen. One official recently called him the "best player on CFC's roster" while watching a match.

"Last year when I came in, the team was already made and the quality of the team was really high, so I was trying to get the most minutes I could," Hernandez said. "This year I came prepared, and so far I'm getting the minutes and enjoying it, too.

"It's been a good year of football."

Hernandez spent time with the now-defunct Rocket City United prior to joining CFC, but the 26-year-old is originally from Madrid, Spain. His upbringing helped mold him into the player he is today, one who is continually working while on the field to be involved in the action both offensively and defensively - an important part of being a midfielder.

That's made him a favorite of the fans, a feeling that is reciprocated.

"The Chattahooligans make every minute on the field special, so when you come in, you want to give back all the energy they're giving you," he said. "That's easy with the help of the Hooligans. For us as players I feel that's important, because with their support we play better."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter.com @genehenleytfp.