For but a moment, it looked as if Zeca’s footballing skill would produce one last highlight in a career full of them. Standing with his back to the goal and down 1-0 to the Maryland Bobcats, the Chattanooga Football Club’s captain located the ball, flipped backwards, and took a bicycle kick. A storybook ending was being written in front of the Finley Stadium crowd who could not have numbered more than 1,000, but still sounded like they counted in the 10s of thousands when Zeca began his acrobatic maneuver.
chattanooga eventually lost to the visiting Bobcats by that 1-0 score.
But a goal was not to be for Zeca, whose shot missed by mere inches and ricocheted off the top crossbar. But the outcome of both the kick and game were just irrelevant, as Jose “Zeca” Ferraz’s CFC career ended as it began: playing with an unrelenting intensity from the first minute until the final whistle in stoppage time. His 24 career goals and 20 career assists were earned against amateur sides like Inter Nashville, national brands like the New York Cosmos, and international giants like Real Bettis.
“I always set goals and challenges for myself, and I was going to achieve those goals no matter what it took,” Zeca said. “I would work double-time, knowing I could do better on the field and in practice. And playing with players with more experience and seeing what I could work on and learn and could grow within that environment. I’m glad I started that way, and I’m glad I finished that way.”
“I never thought I would be here getting this amazing send-off and goodbye from everybody. If I had one thing to tell my younger self, it would be to believe in yourself. A lot of times you are going to be the only one to know what you’re capable of, and eventually people will catch on and understand your value. But you also need to realize you are just a piece of this puzzle and this team.”
Zeca has played with dozens of teammates over his eight-year career in blue, one of which was Greg Hartley. From 2013 to 2016, the English goalkeeper guarded the posts whenever Zeca and Luke Winter were not producing goals across the pitch. Hartley saw firsthand how quickly Zeca embraced the city of Chattanooga.
"I think Zeca came into a well-established team, and it's always hard to break into teams like that,” Hartley said. “But as soon as he came to Chattanooga, he embraced it. The culture, the fans, the city and what everything that CFC stands for. He leaves not just another player but a legend. Someone who has left a legacy at CFC. It's definitely a loss for sure.”
Because of how wholeheartedly Zeca embraced being a Chattanoogan, team chairman Tim Kelly had perhaps the highest praise one can have for a Chattanooga Football Club player.
“He is the classic example for what we hope for in a Chattanooga FC player,” Kelly said. “A guy who comes here from elsewhere but is committed to the community, is humble and a hard worker, and is embedded here. He really is what the club represents in a player. I can’t thank him enough for his time here, and I wish him the best in the future.”
As he consistently did after matches, Zeca gave props to the Chattahooligans who populated Finley Stadium’s premises. After the match (and being named the Clumpies’ Player of the Game), he ran over to the famous section 109, where he celebrated with CFC’s most ardent supporters one last time.
“Sometimes we are not the most skillful or the most physically talented,” Zeca said. “But we do have this energy that comes from the fans in the stands, and we have to capture that and use them as a source of motivation on the field.”
Earlier in the week, second-year coach Peter Fuller echoed the sentiments held by Hartley and Kelly. Zeca was often like a coach on the field, and could be seen directing teammates, encouraging them, and even fighting for them when an opponent would try aggressive tactics against a fellow CFC’er.
“I think I speak for all the players and technical staff as well as our front office when I say that we thank him for his service to the club for his tireless energy and effort every time he steps on the field both in practice and in games,” coach Fuller said. “He truly has exemplified what it means to be a Chattanooga FC player!”
Zeca’s retirement from professional football leaves Juan Hernandez as the longest-tenured player on the squad, as well as the lone remaining member of the 2016 roster that made it to the national championship. A teammate of Zeca’s for six seasons, and the assist-man on several of Zeca’s memorable scores, few CFC players are as qualified to talk about Zeca as the 30 year-old Spaniard.
“That is a guy who will do everything for the team and everything for the people next to him,” Hernandez said. “It’s a sad moment, but it is also a happy moment because he is leaving with great memories. We’re all proud of him.”
After the match, Zeca greeted each teammate, snapping pictures and conversing on the pitch for the final time before retirement. The native of Belo Horizante, Brazil, the forward joined CFC after his junior year at Christian Brothers University, and remained with the team after graduating. He helped CFC win six conference titles in the NPSL in the early 2010s, and then was a driving force behind their conference title as a professional team in the new decade.
“There are so many things going through my mind,” Zeca said. “I’m just putting things in perspective, because I saw so many people here who have been a huge part of my journey with CFC and Chattanooga. It’s a very emotional time, and I’ve just been realizing everything I’ve been through.”
Even though Zeca was still a skillful and impactful force on the pitch during the season, he said he knew it was time to hang up his cleats shortly before the playoffs started. The 28 year-old possesses a civil engineering degree, and he said he is ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
“It was a tough year for everybody, and I think it was time for me to get back to what I was doing before (when CFC was an amateur club),” Zeca said. “If I didn’t do this now, I think it would be hard for me to catch up and be a good candidate for a position in the professional world.”
“I’m open for any good opportunities. For right now I’m going to try to stay around Chattanooga, but if there’s a good opportunity in another city, it could be time to move on.”
Contact Joseph Dycus
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