The Chattanooga Football Club has its first player committed for 2019 — and the team didn't have to go far to find him.
Juan Hernandez has been with the organization since 2015, and he will be with CFC again during its inaugural professional soccer season, the club announced Thursday.
"Whether I was the first one or the last one, I'm just thankful this is happening," Hernandez said in a news release. "Going to the next level is something that I've been thinking about and dreaming about."
Hernandez joined CFC late in the 2015 season, when it advanced to the National Premier Soccer League final. His first full season was 2016, when he received honorable mention on the All-NPSL team. He was named to the All-Conference XI team in 2018.
The 28-year-old midfielder from Madrid has been a part of three Southeast Conference championships (2015, '16, '18) and was a key player in the latter two, helping the 2016 team win the South Region title.
"Juan embodies all the characteristics we look for in our players at Chattanooga Football Club," general manager Sheldon Grizzle said in the release. "He cares deeply about our community, has a great work ethic, takes leadership seriously on and off the field, and performs week in and week out for the team. Our organization couldn't be happier that he will be manning the midfield for us again as we begin a new chapter in Chattanooga Football Club's history."
As announced last month, after the 2019 NPSL regular season concludes, CFC and 10 other clubs will participate in a Founders' Cup in preparation for the new professional league in association with the NPSL. That competition will run from August to November, and it will lead into a full league schedule the following spring.
Hernandez's commitment comes near the end of a week in which CFC and Stadium Corp. announced a two-year deal with a one-year option for 2021 that keeps the team at Finley Stadium.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.