The success of Chattanooga FC over the years can be attributed to a cast of great players, most recently the pairing of Juan Hernandez and Felipe Oliveira.
Hernandez and Oliveira are likely to be the next CFC players to turn pro, joining the likes of Mark Sherrod, Niall McCabe, Sean McFarlane, and Thomas Hunter, all players who have made the jump to the next level.
Hernandez has played for Chattanooga FC since 2015, where he has helped CFC win conference and regional titles and garnered 2016 All-NPSL Honorable Mention recognition. His intense work ethic and tricky footwork have made him a notable player and a fan favorite.
“The Chattahooligans and the city of Chattanooga make a great difference, they make it special,” Hernandez said. “It is hard to explain if you don’t live it. CFC it is a really community-oriented team and the city of Chattanooga loves it and responds to it. In 2015 we drew 18,227 people to an amateur soccer game. That speaks by itself. But the numbers for attendance are not really the special part. The city of Chattanooga and the Chattahooligans love CFC players and players love the Chattahooligans. Every season players and fans do activities together, fans reach out to players to meet their families and invite them to eat, to share life experiences. These things make it personal and that leads to better performances and experiences on and off the field.”
In his seasons with CFC, the team has three NPSL Southeast Conference Championships (2015-16, 2018), two NPSL South Region Championships (2015-16), an NPSL National Final (2015), and a U.S. Amateur National Championship (2015).
“Playing for Chattanooga FC is an amazing professional experience,” Hernandez added. “The expectations of the club are really high, and they manage to find some of the best college and non-college players. Most of the players like me that have come to CFC want to come back but only the ones that respond to expectations are called back.”
Hernandez joined the coaching staff of Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in 2018. Prior to that, he was on the University of West Florida men’s soccer staff as a graduate assistant for three years. He began his UWF coaching career after earning his bachelor’s in physical education and health from Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee in 2014.
Wanting to give back as a coach is important to Hernandez. CFC head coach Bill Elliott and the entire CFC staff have made quite an impact on his career and he would like to do the same with other players.
“I learned a lot from the staff at Chattanooga FC,” Hernandez continued. “Let’s start with head coach Bill Elliott. Not only I had the pleasure of playing for him, but he has also been my mentor at University of West Florida since I was his graduate assistant coach for the past two years. His best quality is that he is empathetic, and he takes really good care of his players and staff. He is very knowledgeable of the game but what makes him special is that he treats players with respect and care and the player that cares will give everything to play for a coach like him. The assistants Jimmy (Weekley) and Jordan (Mattheiss) have been also really important to me. They are people that I often talk to and share good moments. Both of them have been always there for me and have gone above and beyond to help me in aspects that are outside of soccer so I am grateful for them as well. Even the medical staff are there on their off time for the players. As I said before it’s a community-oriented team and the community responds.”
Oliveira joined CFC in 2017 as a former player for Elliott at the University of West Florida. He became a starter in the 2018 season and had eight goals and three assists during his short time with the club. It is clear that he has made the most of his time in Chattanooga.
“Playing for Chattanooga FC after playing for different teams in the same conference has been an unbelievable experience,” Oliveira said. “We’re treated like professionals by everyone involved with the club. What makes it so special are the fans; they’re amazing. The Chattahooligans are 90% of the reason players want to come here. Playing in front of a crowd like that is a feeling you can’t describe, and the way they treat us off the field is also a unique experience. Game day at Finley is like a holiday, from the night before they already start tweeting and getting ready for the game. Being in the stadium with them is something you cant describe, you have to experience it.”
The Belo Horizonte, Brazil native ended his career at UWF as one of the most decorated players in program history. He led the team in goals, assists, and points, tallying six, five, and 17, respectively. He led the Gulf South Conference in game-winning goals with five, putting him 31st in all of NCAA Division II. He became second player in program history to earn All-GSC selections four times. He finished his college career with 29 goals, putting him sixth all-time in program history.
Oliveira gives much credit to Elliott for his success as a player.
“Well I played for Bill for the past six years so he and I have a great mutual respect and understanding for each other. He’s like a father figure to me. I wouldn’t be the person or player I am if it wasn’t for everything he did for me, which most people do not know. He’s had a huge impact in my life and I’m extremely grateful for him.”
Chattanooga FC’s fans and supporters are grateful to have seen this dynamic duo in action for their beloved team. They have seen two players that were among the best that the NPSL had to offer. The sky’s still the limit for this pair as they set their sights to the next level.
Photo Credit: Ray Soldano