AVONDALE, AZ — A fight between amateur soccer players following a match in Avondale has led to a few apparently being banned from the league, and another player in the hospital with serious injuries.
The fight happened last week during a tense Friday night game between the Furors and Manchester City, two teams part of the Arizona Champion's League, an amateur soccer league.
Several teams under the Arizona Champion's League were playing on multiple fields that night.
Witnesses told ABC15, it was a tense game. During the second quarter, a player from Manchester City allegedly fouled Jose Cruz, 26, by reportedly tripping him. The referee called a foul on the other player, which caused the two men -- Cruz, and another player -- to get into a heated argument during the game.
The game finished, but the emotions remained after the game.
Isaias, a teammate of Cruz's, said he was preparing to leave the field when he noticed Cruz on the ground and at least two men kicking him.
"There was just pushing and shoving by the time I ran up there. I seen that they tried to separate them, but before I knew it, a fight was going on," he said.
Rafael Chilaca, who leads the Arizona Champion's League, agreed to an on-camera interview with ABC15. He saw the fight, and immediately called the police.
However, by the time the police arrived, most of the players left the soccer field, he said. Cruz was on the ground.
"He said he couldn't feel his legs. He could not feel anything from his waist down. He could not move his feet or his toes," said Rios, his teammate.
Cruz had to undergo immediate surgery. His family was told that Cruz suffered five spinal fractures during the fight, and was told that he may never be able to walk again. Initially, doctors apparently thought Cruz may have been paralyzed.
It was unbearable news for those who know and love Cruz.
"It is just unbelievable. He is such a young guy. He loves soccer. After one game to lose something so precious, to be told you might never play again, you might not even be able to run again, it's so surreal to me," said Rios.
Chilaca said the Arizona Champions League is competitive. It's been around for 15 years and has 65 amateur teams under its umbrella.
"It is a very tough situation, not just for Jose but for myself as a parent, as a league director, it is tough as well," he said.
As for what consequences, if any, the players involved in the fight will face, Chilaca was direct.
"They will never play in this league again. Absolutely not. Not at all. I am against violence. Those kids violated one of the most important rules, which is to have fun and be recreational. We have a zero-tolerance policy in terms of fighting," he said.
As for Cruz's recovery, ABC15 has learned that he is getting better each day and is beginning to get some feeling back in his legs.
His road forward, however, is expected to be a long and tough recovery, and involve months of rehabilitation. Because he is 26, Cruz is no longer on his parent's insurance and his family expects it to cost a lot of money to get him the therapy he will need to recover.
Family members have created a GoFundMe account to raise money to help with Cruz's medical expenses. To donate, click here.
Friends are also organizing a charity soccer tournament to raise funds. That event is scheduled for Dec. 12 at Woodglen Park. The cost is $100 per team to enter. Those interested can call 480-227-7902 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No charges have been filed against anyone at this point, however, ABC15 has learned that Cruz's family is exploring their legal options.
Chilaca, director of the soccer league, said he hopes the incident serves as a reminder to all athletes, amateur or professional.
"Trust me, the trophy, the medal, the award money, it's not worth it. Really not worth it, especially with the situation Jose is facing," he said.