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Stoitchkov Continued.....

[FYI: Some of the wording in this blog entry has been changed to reflect that Kaplan and Rongen were not deposed in this case. Their accounts, however, remain unchanged.]

Some notable comments and observations from the court documents in the Freddy Llerena-Hristo Stoitchkov civil case that has been settled for an undisclosed amount:

Llerena's attorneys wanted to show that Stoitchkov was in a volatile mood in the moments before the incident during the 2003 scrimmage between American University and D.C. United at Reeves Field in Washington. They referred to Stoitchkov's behavior after AU had scored the tying goal on a sequence that Stoitchkov believed was offside. In opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgement, Llerena's counsel stated Stoitchkov turned to assistant referee Ken Kaplan and said, "That's [expletive] wrong, [expletive] awful, you need to get that [expletive] right, [expletive] you."

Asked if he cursed four or five times at Kaplan, Stoitchkov said: "No. No chance."

AU Coach Todd West said that, when play restarted after the goal, Stoitchkov deliberately kicked the ball into the corner in order to continue yelling at Kaplan. West and his coaching staff were thinking, "Why doesn't he just get on with the game? There's 80 minutes left and it's a friendly."

Shortly thereafter, the ball was played into midfield and, according to referee Andrew Chapin, Stoitchkov came "from a significant distance at full speed." Chapin also said that, despite being aware of Stoitchkov's protests about the AU goal, "I did not get a sense that he flipped his lid and was out to hurt anybody. I think his red card was his first tackle of the game."

Thomas Rongen, the former United coach who attended the scrimmage and was watching less than 100 yards from the incident, said in court documents that Stoitchkov took a "30-yard run at the kid. Before he got there, I thought, 'Oh [expletive].' ... He clearly wanted to make a statement."

Said Stoitchkov: "It was a play not uncommon in the game. At no time did I intend to injure anyone."

Stoitchkov acknowledged that "maybe" he came in with his cleats up and at a fast pace, but that he made contact with the ball first.

West: "I think he did it to set a tone that college kids aren't going to beat us."

When Stoitchkov made contact with him, Llerena said he was "on the ground with a bone sticking out of my leg." West said Llerena was "inconsolable that he was going to have his leg amputated."

According to Llerena's counsel, Kaplan said that Stoitchkov turned to leave the field, knowing he had been red-carded, walked in front of him and "told me to [expletive] off." When Stoitchkov realized the extent of the injury, Kaplan said, he showed remorse and tried to comfort Llerena until the ambulance arrived.

Chapin said he never cashed his paycheck for working that game because "to this day, [he] feel[s] sickened that [he was] even involved."

Llerena returned to the team for his sophomore and junior seasons, but quit early in his final year. After the incident, West stated, Llerena was a "different player. ... He couldn't do the things he used to do. He was clever with the ball, creative with the ball. He didn't have any of that. And he couldn't move." By his junior season, West said it became clear that Llerena "wasn't going to be the guy we thought was going to be before the injury."

The attorneys for Stoitchkov, MLS and D.C. United argued that there is a risk any time an athlete agrees to participate in competition. They also contended that "the severity of Mr. Llerena's injury does not make Mr. Stoitchkov's actions any more or less reckless. ... Mr. Stoitchkov's tackle was not totally outside the range of activity in a soccer match such that he can be held liable." The plaintiff's representatives argued Stoitchkov's actions were reckless and that, in the context of a friendly match, a college player could not reasonably have expected to be the recipient of such a challenge from an established professional.

In the end, the sides reached the financial settlement. We will probably never know how much money was involved. Where are they now? Llerena earned his degree from AU and, from what I have heard, works for his father's business in Maryland and plays in an amateur league. Stoitchkov this week resigned as coach of Celta Vigo, a Spanish second division club.

By Steve Goff  |  October 10, 2007; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Comments

Based on the accounts, the suit seems pretty reasonable. "Llerena said he was "on the ground with a bone sticking out of my leg."" Yikes.

That being said, its tough to say that this situation was worse than any other studs up challenge. Steve, someone suggested that you were there that day. Is that true? If so, can you tell us any more about the challenge? (It's kind of hard to word what I mean, some tackles seem accidentally dangerous, some seem very intentional but with no intent for serious harm, and some seem like intentional harm is meant. I'm guessing its the third case)

Posted by: Anonymous | October 10, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

My friend was playing for AU. He was a big Stoichkov fan. Said it was the dirtiest tackle he ever saw, and that no one saw it coming. Hard to cheer for Hristo after that.

Posted by: MtP | October 10, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like Hristo was pissed and tried to take the guy out, but didn't intend to break his leg...it's just something that happened. I'm curious as to what the settlement was for. As a lifetime soccer player (I'm 26) and current Sunday rec player, I know I'd be devastated if someone broke my leg in a game on a vicious tackle, so I can imagine how Llerana feels; it sucks. However, in contact sports there is always a chance to break something or get injured somehow. Any guesses as to how much the settlement was?

Posted by: CY | October 10, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

He's a pig and should be in jail.
At the very least he's a borderline psycho who needs some serious help.
But, I'll go with Pig.

His involvement with DC is a black mark on the organization. Hopefully we've learned something.

Posted by: Hacksaw | October 10, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I was there. Saw it and heard it from the far side of the field. I'll never forget the sounds -- of the contact, of the kid screaming, of other players' reaction.

Stoitchkov went in very hard. Given the setting, the context of the game, the opponent, etc., it seemed excessive. Was he trying to break the kid's leg? No. Should he be held liable for it? Not my call.

Posted by: Goff | October 10, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Wow, props to Rongen for calling it like he saw it,which pretty much hung Hristo out to dry.I'm sure he was under considerable pressure to see it differently.

No wonder they settled,a good Plaintiff's lawyer would have beaten them to death at trial with Rongen's testimony,which has considerable weight due to his resume.....

Posted by: Lloyd Heilbrunn | October 10, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

There's nothing that unusual or surprising about this situation unfortunately. Any of you people who play old guy outdoor or late night indoor or whatever know full well about players taking meaningless games way too seriously. Reckless tackles, fighting, etc; It ticks me off, because this is always the potential end result of one's stupidity and immaturity.

Posted by: jasonVA | October 10, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

One thing is for sure -- Llerena's lawyers got well-paid.

The kid himself probably did not get much more than his medical bills paid. If he cleared more than $10k for pain and suffering, I would be VERY surprised.

Posted by: Ron | October 10, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I think jasonVA's statement about the lack of recognition about the context of the game is very true, both in the Stoitchkov incident as well as in the adult rec leagues. I think we expect some of that in teenage youth soccer, but in adult rec leagues it's pretty pathetic. We all take the risk of getting hurt when we take the field, but to intentionally hurt someone for a meaningless game shows a complete lack of honor, civility, and self-respect.

Totally unrelated subject matter, but in a similar showing of dishonor and incivility is the story about the German U21 player of Iranian heritage who is refusing to play against an Israeli team. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,2814253,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf

Posted by: LeesburgSoccerFan | October 10, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I remember when this happened. My son was playing at SMU and they played FC Dallas two to three times each spring. I've seen some of the pro players get "exercised" over one of the college kid's tackles, but never anything like this.

I did some research and found that there is a large body of legal cases in England regarding on field activites in football matches. Most of the lawsuits come from off the ball action, but some relate to tackles made to intentionally injure a player. From what I can tell, even in England, Stoichkov would have been sued and probably been forced to pay damages.

Posted by: crazy al | October 10, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

In the Post article the next day, Goff quoted the ref West as saying the tackle was "criminal." Another eyewitness, and long time soccer observer, posted that the tackle was "barbarous."

I agree with post above (and as a season ticket holder) the involvement of this guy with DCU is a black eye on the organization.

You should post the full deposition transcripts.

Posted by: WNT fan | October 10, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I may be the only one, and people can think I'm an insensitive jerk for thinking this, but I kind of wish there was video to see what happened. For one it'd be interesting to see how crazy/malicious the tackle was so we could judge Stoichkov for ourselves and not based on another's account (even someone as respected as Goffer). Second, I know people are interested in seeing train wreck injuries, that's why you can still find video out there of LT breaking Theismann's leg.

Posted by: Anon | October 10, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Just to correct WNT Fan, the referee was Andy Chapin. The AU coach was West.

Chapin's statement that he never cashed his paycheck he was so sickened by the incident may not have a legal effect, but I can imagine that would play well with a jury. A national-caliber referee making that sort of statement can't make your case look good.

I, too, would love to see the full transcripts. Or maybe even a docket number so that someone can nab them from PACER (if this is a federal case. The article wasn't certain where it was filed).

Posted by: Sean | October 10, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Chico - I was watching this game since some of my friend were on that team. The sound from that tackle was definately sickening - it was like hearing a huge tree limb snap.

It was criminal of Stoichkov - he had just been getting beaten all day - he looked like crap and did not get a call he wanted. He deserves the max penalty possible - as does DC United.

Posted by: ASCSoccer | October 10, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I was very unhappy when DC acquired Stoitchkof. Didn't like him even when he was with us. Was glad to see him go. He was a ticking timebomb that finally went off.

Posted by: Terp | October 10, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

According to this Goff article from February, the suit was filed in federal district court in DC.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/26/AR2007022601339.html

Filings are indeed download-able from PACER. Someone who isn't a slave to the billable hour like me might want to dig around.

https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl

Posted by: silentbob | October 10, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Rongen wasn't the coach at the time, Hudson was, correct?

Posted by: pat | October 10, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

The video of the challenge was on MLSnet for less than a day before it was taken off. So we know it exists because I've seen it. It's from far away so you can't see the extent of the injury, but you sure can see Stoichkiv coming in awfully hard and fast and basically plow into the kid's leg.

When Goff spoke about the players' reactions to the injury, I know Ben Olsen puked right there on the field, and several others couldn't even look at it.

Hristo's involvement w/ the team, combined w/ the end of Etch's days w/ DC, were what I consider the darkest times of the organization...

Posted by: Mark | October 10, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

If it was bad enough to make Olsen puke it must have been pretty bad. NM

Posted by: Nutmegger | October 10, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

ASC Soccer...
I'm not sure why you would think the team deserves the max penalty. Sure Stoichkov was under their employ at the time but it's not like they condoned that type of behavior or aggression. Llerena's attorney's probably included MLS and United for maximun cash output. Either way, the negative press at the time was a real black eye on all three.

Posted by: Chico | October 10, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Totally off-topic: FIFA approves trial of goalmouth referees - http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=reu-fifareferees&prov=reuters&type=lgns

Posted by: Soy United! | October 10, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

if by resigned from Celta Vigo you mean given the choice of jumping or being pushed, then yes, he was resigned earlier this week

Posted by: Matt | October 10, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Some have mentioned the fact that it was a "friendly." I don't think the designation of the match reduces the competitive level of the match, especially when teams are not of the same level. Most international matches are friendlies. Regardless, Stoitchkov was horribly wrong and it's a sad piece of of United history. I'm glad the entire thing is over now.

Soy United, I'm more interested in IFAB and the use of cameras or other technology. What is a goalmouth referee? Isn't that what a linesman's job is?

Posted by: sitruc | October 10, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"One thing is for sure -- Llerena's lawyers got well-paid. The kid himself probably did not get much more than his medical bills paid. If he cleared more than $10k for pain and suffering, I would be VERY surprised."

On the contrary, the kid is ultimately the individual who makes the call to settle or not and, as outlined above, the kid had to be offered a respectable amount from DCU, MLS and Hristo to keep him from dragging this in front of a jury and capable members of the press (such as Goff).

On a related matter, in the book "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization" by Franklin Foer, there is a great excerpt about Hristo personally and how well-admired he is among fans of Barcelona. Also, a great blurb about how highly Hristo thinks of himself. A good read for soccer nuts.

Posted by: Mickey | October 10, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

sitruc - yes that is the AR's job. But AR's are human - most of them - and now with instant replay from every possible angle - they will be proven wrong.

I am not sure how the goalmouth referee would do - Will he watch a TV or man a camera? Will they stop a match and go into a box like the nfl? Man I hope not - but I do not know a better way to do it.

Posted by: bobf | October 10, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure how the goalmouth referee would do - Will he watch a TV or man a camera? Will they stop a match and go into a box like the nfl? Man I hope not - but I do not know a better way to do it.
****************************************

Better way of doing it? By putting sensors in the ball so that if any part of the ball goes x distance into the net it must have completely entered the goal...

Quite simple with technology, at least for the professional level. Adding one goal mouth ref, especially just one, may cut down on errors but the weakness of a single goal mouth ref will be the same as for an AR.

Posted by: Matt | October 10, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Matt, sitruc, bobf... read the article.

IAFB has given authorization for adidas to keep testing goalmouth technology using a chip in the ball, their only requirement is that the decision be instantaneous--so that would rule out instant replay of any type. FIFA will test the goalmouth refs at the next Club World Cup--no decision as to positioning, etc., yet.

I guess you don't need to read it now... ;-)

Posted by: Soy United! | October 10, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

thanks Soy :) I would HATE to be the GM-REF. You would sleep for 90% of a match then need to make a split second call? YIKES!

I like to chip in the ball thing. I wonder if they can put one in my golf ball?

I would hate to see any type of instant replay added to soccer - it would lead to a little red flag and stopping of play.

Posted by: bobf | October 10, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

For the curious, here is the Case No. for the PACER search. I don't think you will find any deposition transcripts there. My recollection is there was a protective order entered (confidentiality), but there may be some excerpts from depositions in motions that were filed.

1:06-cv-00343-RWR

Posted by: MR Caretaker | October 10, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit, my perception of that day has changed after reading the deposition quotes. I, too, was there, but I had arrived late and sat down right across the field from the foul maybe a minute before the foul. I think AU had just scored when I got there. I remember seeing someone taping the game and wondering if that was the footage I saw later on the internet.

I don't remember the sound of the tackle, but I do remember the players reactions as they realized how bad it was.

Anyway, at the time I thought it was fairly typical of Hristo, and deserving a red, but not so bad as some have described. But now that I read the deposition quotes, I wonder if my memory of it has evolved over time....

As CY points out - some people take friendlies too far, and I totally agree that in adult rec leagues you see it too often. I have seen it as a ref and a player, and now I see it even more intense living abroad.

Posted by: Lost in BA | October 10, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! THAT BALL WAS IN THE GOAL! THE SENSOR BEEPED!

Posted by: John McEnroe | October 10, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The point that the severity of the injury has nothing to do with whether he was reckless or there was intent to injure is the most valid one.

I had a very serious knee injury as a result of a perfectly clean challenge in a college game. My knee still hurts and I don't play soccer. It's part of the game. Even jerkfaces being rough is part of the game. I'm sorry he had a really bad injury, but to say DCU is responsible, or that they owe him anything but medical bills, is lame and a reflection of our lawsuit-happy culture that takes away from legitamate suits.

Posted by: Injuries Happen | October 10, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

But there's a difference from a serious injury that results from a clean challenge (or even a foul that was part of the normal run of play, e.g. someone accidentally out of control) and a serious injury that results from someone trying to "send a message."

If this had gone to trial I think the question would have been was Stoitchkov doing something as part of the game or was he doing this to send a message to AU/the ref. If it was the latter even if he didn't intend to break the guy's leg he would bear some responsibility because his actions were outside the game (and outside the risk that the AU player had assumed by playing in the game).

Given the statements by a broad range of experienced observers, it seems a group of non-soccer fan jurors might well have believed his actions weren't common for a game and thus the AU player had not assumed that risk.

Posted by: cap hill | October 10, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Yes, there is video floating around on the Internet because I've seen it. It was a late, hard, bad challenge but not something that you wouldn't see in a game. It was no flying drop kick or kick to the ribs on Ruiz... This was a bad challenge that someone makes to send a message. Part of the issue is that a pro-player would have seen many challenges of that type before and known to get the hell out of the way - this guy didn't, he continued through his own action. Hristo shouldn't have done it and the result was a horrid injury. But make no mistake this was not a Roy Keane challenge on on Alf Haland.

Posted by: Revelation | October 10, 2007 5:27 PM | Report abuse

You can get a very serious knee injury with no contact at all. A serious knee injury is part of the game, an assumed risk. You could even get a broken leg from a hard challenge. But the extent of the injuries reflect on the intent. You simply don't see as "part of the game" compound fractures so grotesque that they make national team players puke. The circumstances that are described by those who were there suggest that a civil $$ settlement was the most lenient outcome, and that, as the AU coach said at the time, the actions were potentially criminal. All of the jingo lingo on the board today about lawsuit abuse sounds too much like re-gurgitated Rush Limbaugh. This isn't a $60 million suit about losing your pants at the dry cleaners.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 10, 2007 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Here's the perspective of another eyewitness:

"Yet those of us who saw the tackle were in no doubt that Stoitchkov, who had been openly and vociferously aggrieved just one minute earlier at a linesman's failure to give an offside decision in DC's favor, went in to the tackle with the intention of making a point, if not necessarily to break someone's leg. His reaction to the referee's immediate red card for the reckless challenge on Llerena was stony-faced, despite the audible snap of the player's bone, and only a few minutes later did he return to the field to check on the injured player and belatedly express his remorse.

MLS was correct to slap a huge fine and a nine-match ban last week on Ricardo Clark for kicking Carlos Ruiz while on the ground. But Clark didn't break any bones. The difference must have been that Stoitchkov's tackle wasn't seen on TV, so it couldn't be as damaging to the league's image. But the league and DC United have only themselves to blame for belatedly having to pay out for Stoitchkov's hooliganism. They should have torn up his contract that very same day."

full article at http://www.ussoccerplayers.com/exclusives/index.html?article_id=746

Posted by: Anonymous | October 10, 2007 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the goalmouth official - he (or she) should have a better view of the goal-line than the assistant ref (AR) often has.

An AR's proper position is on the sideline even with the 2nd to last defender so they can judge offsides. They should leave that position and run to the endline, to the best of their ability, when the ball is played beyond the defense to judge whether a goal has been scored or whether the ball has gone out of play. But if an attacking player shoots from distance with the 2nd to last defender nearby the AR may need to make that call from a fairly long distance. Depending on how well a field is marked and the speed of the play (especially when a ball bounces down from the crossbar) it can be a tricky call requiring a guesstimate.

Posted by: garbaggio | October 10, 2007 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Weak, weak sauce from anyone trying to say "injuries happen" or otherwise excuse Hristo and/or the organization. I've been a fan from day one, but I never liked Hristo and his act. And when I saw the video and read the accounts, I was hoping for much harsher reaction from the league. And not to be too pedantic, but in our system of justice, if someone does something that is borderline criminal while "on the job" the employer is liable. Take it up with the Supreme Court.

It's my belief that due to the fact that there was no quality footage, that it was basically a scrimmage (calling a pre-season game against a college team a "friendly" is a bit laughable), and that the league wanted to protect itself against future litigation had something to do with the tepid response.

I agree with an earlier comment: That was a dark time to be a fan of DCU.

Posted by: DCU Apologists | October 11, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I volunteer to serve on the firing squad for Hristo someday. Especially if we can get a 2-for-1 with Dema. I hope DC never signs thugs like those two again.

Posted by: Clark Coleman | October 11, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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