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Anger Management
Michael Bamberger
April 07, 2003
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April 07, 2003

Anger Management

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The right tibia and fibula of American University freshman midfielder Freddy Llerena, following an unconscionable challenge from D.C. United striker Hristo Stoitchkov during a March 25 scrimmage in Washington. American tied the game at I on a 10th-minute goal that Stoitchkov thought was offside. After United kicked off, Stoitchkov, 37 ran at Llerena—who was taking control of the ball in his own end of the pitch with his back to the United goal—and launched a studs-up tackle that snapped both the bones in Llerena's lower right leg. (Llerena had played no part in the disputed goal.) Stoitchkov was red-carded and the match abandoned. Says American coach Todd West, "It absolutely is the worst foul I've ever seen."

The game was Llerena's first against pro players, and his family had come to watch. "I was very excited to play with guys like Marco Etcheverry, Ben Olsen and Hristo Stoitchkov," says Llerena. "It was an honor to step on the field." At first Stoitchkov was dismissive of the incident, but when he realized how severely the 18-year-old Llerena was hurt, he wept. "I want to give a thousand apologies," Stoitchkov said. At week's end MLS was investigating the incident.

A former FIFA player of the year, Stoitchkov earned the nickname the Mad Bulgarian while playing for CSKA Sofia in the early 1980s and was banned for life for inciting a brawl during the '85 Bulgarian Cup final. (The ban was later rescinded.) But he has kept his temper in check since joining MLS in 2000. Llerena, who had a four-inch plate inserted into his leg, was back on campus by week's end and optimistic about rejoining the team next fall. He expressed no bitterness. "Maybe I would have taken more caution had it been another person," Llerena says, "but being Stoitchkov, a professional with so much experience, I expected him to be more like a teacher on the field."

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