With sweat dripping from his face on a cold Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles, Alex Lugo of Cathedral High is sitting in the locker room moments after his spectacular assist led to a sudden-death goal on a head shot from Omar Arrieta in the Southern Section Division 1 soccer playoffs. Cathedral defeated Oxnard Hueneme 1-0.
It’s the first time I’ve seen Lugo since the sad, emotional scene from a year ago, when he decided to play in the state regional playoff final against Loyola after the death of his father in the morning. The Phantoms lost that game 2-1.
“I remember the day,” he says in a low, subdued voice. “I looked into the sky and asked for permission and I saw a sign.”
Sounds of teammates yelling and celebrating can be heard in the background as Lugo explains the lessons he learned over the last year.
“I feel it’s part of life, something God puts us through, and sometimes life isn’t perfect,” Lugo said. “You have to suffer, and that’s what God did to get me stronger as a person. I try to deal with it by hanging out with friends to get my mind off it.”
Lugo was 17 when his father, Abel, died. He’s an 18-year-old senior now. The healing process continues.
“I was a happy kid,” he said. “Once it happened, it dropped me a little but I learned to cheer up. I do think of him. Of course he’s always going to be in my heart. Every game is for him.”
Soccer has brought Lugo friendships that will last a lifetime. Having played alongside Arrieta since they were children helped lead to Saturday’s dramatic moment.
It was the 96th minute. The ball was loose and headed out of bounds on the left sideline. Lugo retrieved it and sent it flying toward the middle of the Hueneme goal almost as if he were trying a corner kick.
Arrieta knew what to do. They’ve teamed up so many times through the years. He used his head to send the ball perfectly into the right side of the net to end the game as teammates stormed the field.
“I’ve been playing with him for 10 years,” Arrieta said.
Asked how Lugo was doing, Arrieta admitted, “He’s still heartbroken.”
Friendships and soccer keep Lugo moving forward.
The Phantoms, seeded No. 2 for the playoffs, will play at Mission Viejo on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. No. 1 Loyola is at Huntington Beach Edison. A rematch in the championship game would be epic for the two downtown Los Angeles soccer powers.
“Soccer guides my life,” Lugo said. “There’s still more to come.”
He sat on a bench in the locker room for a photo. He had a slight smile and gave the thumbs-up sign.
Life moves on.