With a combined 12 years of experience playing soccer for the Chattanooga Football Club, the veteran presences of Jose "Zeca" Ferraz and Juan Hernandez are not taken for granted.
In fact, both will be looked to possibly do even more as the club is playing the most matches it ever has in a calendar year. The National Premier Soccer League playoffs are less than two weeks away, and the inaugural Founder's Cup competition starts on Aug. 10.
"We look to our older players to instill the soccer culture of CFC into the younger players," CFC coach Bill Elliott said. "Zeca and Juan are huge leaders. Zeca has really been scoring some big goals for us. Juan is great on the field and off; he helps lead the strength and conditioning aspects of the group. They are true professionals."
Both players have captivated the fans in Finley Stadium with their playing ability as well as their contagious personalities. The NPSL Southeast Conference-leading CFC (5-1-1) will be trying for its sixth straight win Saturday night as it hosts third-place Asheville City SC (4-2-2) at 7:30.
For Hernandez, walking out onto the field for the national anthem holding the hand of a small fan and celebrating with a bought-in fan base never gets old. He believes the bond between the fans and players has become stronger than ever in 2019.
"I know a lot of people who are now owners, and it's something really special," Hernandez said. "Some fans have joked around with me and say now I own you, so be careful. Technically they are right. You can tell from the crowd the love they have for this team. It translates both ways, because we have a strong love for them, too."
A deep roster with capable goal scorers all over the field has been one of the biggest strengths for Chattanooga FC, especially of late.
After drawing and losing in its first two matches of the year, CFC rattled off five straight wins from June 8 to 22 in which it outscored its NPSL competition 16-1. A strong back line of defense along with a great tempo and control on the offensive end has been on display no matter the personnel.
Ten players have scored in the win streak, during which Zeca has scored three times.
"We have a lot of great players and tremendous depth," Zeca said. "We are more experienced than we have been in my career here. When a couple of us need rest it is no problem because we have guys who can come in and get the job done."
Counting tonight's match, CFC will play four games in eight days before the NPSL playoffs begin. On Sunday the club will play Guatemalan power CSD Municipal at Ridgeland High School in an international friendly starting at 6 p.m.
Hernandez found his groove by playing as a part of rotations when he first joined CFC in a record-setting 2015 season in which the club was national runner-up to the New York Cosmos B.
Now he hopes his and his teammates' expertise and drive can make for more lasting memories.
"The commitment of this group is special and greater than ever before," Hernandez said. "The training, mentality and work ethic is there to be a championship team. We have a strong bond off the field, too, that carries onto the field. It will take everybody to achieve the goals we want to reach, and everyone is on board."
CFC president Sheldon Grizzle has a similar perception.
"This is the most talented team we have ever put together," Grizzle said. "The coaches and players know it. I think our fans know it, too. It's a deep and talented roster. They are special in terms of the quality of the play and their team chemistry."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.