In a touching tribute to a teammate lost in a tragic shooting at his own home, the Winnetka (Calif.) El Camino Real High boys soccer team began its first game after his death without a player in his position, leaving their own goal wide open.
As reported by ESPNLA.com, El Camino Real began its boys soccer game against Reseda (Calif.) Cleveland High on Saturday without a goalie, holding traditional backup keeper Randdi Misrahi from the field until after the game had kicked off. Misrahi's temporary absence was a touching tribute to fallen goalie Francisco Rodriguez Jr., who was killed in front of his house by a female assailant who had summoned him to the door just hours after the team's previous game on Wednesday night.
"Francisco was always willing to play, whenever," El Camino Real boys soccer coach David Hussey told ESPNLA.com. "The first game is going to be the hardest.
"We talked to Randdi. He said he was OK coming on to the field. We wanted to show that we were thinking about him. For a few seconds we didn't have a goalie and then we subbed him in. Cleveland was great to us. A great host, they were very compassionate."
The goalie-less kickoff was just one of a number of tributes ECR made for its fallen teammate, with the squad hoisting his number 26 jersey in front of their bench and the teams agreeing to a 26-second moment of silence before the game began.
Then, once the game actually began, Misrahi turned in what might have been the most fitting tribute of all, stonewalling a number of Cleveland chances to record the Conquistadores' ninth shutout of the season in the team's 2-0 victory, an accomplishment Rodriguez Jr. surely would have been proud of.
"Randdi, it's the best I've ever seen him play," ECR player Lucas Ladek, who scored the Conquistadores' first goal, told ESPNLA. "He saves us with all the trouble we get into."
In the meantime, L.A. investigators announced that they were searching for a red-headed teenage girl in connection with the shooting. Rodriguez's sister reported seeing a red-headed girl at the family's door just before hearing the shots fired that killer her brother, and Rodriguez's cousin told KTLA that there was a green SUV present when the teenager was killed.
No arrests or tributes can bring the beloved teen they called "Pancho" back, but for one day, they may have helped a struggling community deal with the loss of one of its most beloved sons.