EL PASO, Texas -- Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez left EL Paso Locomotive FC for USL club Miami FC this past off-season, but he still carries "Memo" Garcia's legacy with him wherever he goes.
"He needs to be known, not because of how he died," says Velasquez of Garcia. "But because of who he was in this community and who he was in El Paso."
Garcia, the youth league soccer coach who was shot outside the Cielo Vista Walmart on August 3rd, succumbed Sunday after a nearly nine-month battle with gunshot wounds.
You didn’t have to play for Coach "Memo" Garcia to feel a pull towards him.
In Garcia's fight for life, his EP Fusion youth girls' soccer team stood by his side. But so did Velasquez, a standout scorer for El Paso's professional club.
Velasquez had never met Coach Memo prior to August 3rd, but attended a vigil for Coach Memo in the days following. Surrounded members of the El Paso community, the support for the coach Velasquez never met blew him away.
“Times come and go, one coach comes and another player comes, but that’s just how it works in this business. But the amount of people that together that day it was a parking lot full. It looked there was a massive concert," says Velasquez, who had come to El Paso only about a month prior to the shooting.
"When I saw everyone lightning those candles I was like This guy has done a lot for this community. And the community is about to show out for him,” he added.
Sebastian then helped orchestrate a charity celebrity game to raise funds for the team. And while his own pro season played on, Velasquez made it a point to stay by EP Fusion’s side, while their coach battled for his life in the hospital.
“I went out to see a couple of their games and I remember after the game, I bought all the girls ice cream at an ice cream truck. Those little moments for them, they love it. They enjoy it,” he said.
When the Locomotive's season concluded following a loss in the Western Conference Final,, he left El Paso for Miami FC.
But he continued to stay in contact with Memo’s wife Jessica, plugging in for updates on Memo.
“He’s getting better, he’s fighting, he went through this surgery, that surgery," says Velasquez of the contact between he and Jessica. "And then I would always ask about the girls. I was always asking about the girls.”
So when Sebastian found out Sunday of Memo’s passing, he cried. For the loss of a coach, a father, a husband and a loss for El Paso.
“Thank you Memo for everything, you’ve done in your community. This (expletive) real man. Somebody lost their life. 23 people lost their life. You get mixed emotions you feel even anger man."
"At the end of the day Memo did that," says Velasquez of Memo's inspiration. "He came to this world and he made a change. And he definitely impacted my life.”
Now in Miami, nearly nine months and 1,600 miles away, the common bond of soccer and courage still unites Sebastian and "Memo" Garcia.
And though the name of the front of the jersey might be different, the memory of Coach Memo still fresh in Sebastian’s mind.