36.9 C
HomeQatarQatar bound US build trust of new generation of fans

Qatar bound US build trust of new generation of fans

I learned about a fascinating case of American tort law during the week. It helped me understand a little about what tort actually means and it made me think of the rocky recent past of US soccer which was finally put to bed on Wednesday night.

Not only is it tragic that tort law now interests me as a term, it is a deeper human tragedy caused by a bizarre 1920s incident which defined a key element of it. The ramifications have endured generations later for law students striving to understand the legal system they are entering into in the US.

Picture the 1924 summer scene: a Long Island woman waiting patiently for her connecting train at the East New York station in Brooklyn with her two adolescent children as they make their way to Rockaway for a day at the beach. All of a sudden, two commuters rush past them to catch the departing train that isn’t hers. The companions scramble through the closing doors and a railroad employee steps in to help the second-placed straggler of the duo, pushing him through, as you do. That man’s suitcase drops and explodes, the force of which pushes over a large coin-operated weighing scale which in turn falls on poor Helen Palsgraf.

Whose fault is it that the traumatised woman would develop a stammer from the incident? She subsequently sued Long Island Railroad, arguing that the company and employees had been negligent while offering assistance to the man who – unbeknownst to anyone except him and his friend – was carrying a suitcase of fireworks. Was it the LIRR’s fault that she had been harmed so chaotically? And with whom did the neglect ultimately lie? The commuter who needed to get his fireworks from A to B was of course never found – presumably he watched his precious cargo explode dramatically on the platform as the train rolled out of the station. His was a momentary defeat but Palsgraf would be the eventual loser.

Initially, there was hope for her. In May 1927 she obtained a jury verdict of $6,000 but the apoplectic railroad officials appealed, unsuccessfully. After a couple more appeals, the highest court in the State of New York ultimately found that Long Island Railroad couldn’t possibly have foreseen that a man carrying fireworks would set off an unfortunate chain of events, thus denying poor Mrs Palsgraf her compensation. She would ultimately live out the rest of her life embittered, depressed and mute, passing away in Queens a couple of decades later.

I’m sure it would have been of little consolation to her that she is now somewhat of an icon in US law. Out of the ashes of that defeat lives on a legacy of influence.

In early 2016, when the then 17-year-old Christian Pulisic set the record for the youngest ever American to appear in a World Cup qualifier, he could never have foreseen the carnage he was entering into.

By the end of that year, the US Soccer Federation powers-that-be fired the man who gave the budding star his first senior opportunity on the international stage.

Jürgen Klinsmann had been on borrowed time since he declined to bring Landon Donovan to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a decision which lingers in infamy. When the qualification campaign for Russia 2018 started badly with losses at home to Mexico and away to Costa Rica, the German was out on his ear.

There is no room for error in CONCACAF, the body that oversees the footballing nations of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Apart from Oceania, it is inarguably the weakest of the six confederations by a distance. 

Historically, it has endured the least amount of berths and deservedly so. As the World Cup has expanded, there has been a little more wriggle room and by the time 2026 rolls around, three of the countries will be automatically entered in the 48-team monstrosity by dint of earning the privilege of hosting.

Between reaching Brazil in 1950 and Italy in 1990, there was a barren spell of nine World Cups for the US during which absenteeism helped the game rot on the vine domestically.

A charismatic 1990 squad set the table for hosting in 1994 – an event which has grown increasingly fonder in the memories of those of us old enough to remember it.

And then it was all mostly gravy until it suddenly wasn’t. The zenith occurred in 2002 when Brian McBride and Landon Donovan helped them beat bitter arch-rivals Mexico in the second round.

It couldn’t possibly have been known then that a long and steady decline was lying in wait for the men’s team, right as the women’s team grew in stature on the world stage as well as for aspiring young players across the States.

In October 2017, Bruce Arena took his suitcase of fireworks to the Ato Boldon Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago. The pregame flooding of the athletics track that enclosed the pitch meant his players needed to be carried across the shin-deep waters. 2-0 down at half-time – partly due to an Omar Gonzalez own goal – it was the young Pulisic who was looked to for what was ultimately a consolation goal. The defeat denied the US qualification for the first time since the 80s and all hell broke loose.

The train left the station in many ways during the rest of that terrible year. Donald Trump was elected president four weeks later and there were dwindling options from which to seek out an escape from the explosive tension all around us.

But the US Soccer had no option but to begin the process of rehabilitation. They hired former national team player Gregg Berhalter, a key figure in 2002’s back line due to the injuries of others. When he played in the win over Mexico and the subsequent quarter-final loss to Germany, he became the first Crystal Palace player to play in a World Cup match.

I met him at a US Soccer event the day he was announced to the media in Manhattan in early December 2018. It was of course his dream job, in spite of the governing body political turmoil he was entering into. He was a ball of energy and he namechecked several of the up-and-coming players he was looking forward to connecting with in person. It was a deep and necessary contrast to the day-to-day turmoil at USSF HQ in Chicago.

As with many areas of public life, the federation was tearing itself to pieces. Regime changes and expensive lawsuits with the rightly aggrieved women’s national team caused structural change which was both necessary and arduous. But Berhalter knew well that a golden generation of talented young players was beginning to show signs of blossoming and he also knew even better that he could use qualification for Qatar as a real stepping stone towards taking part in 2026 as competitive hosts. The average age of the squad today is 24 and will be 28 by the time the World Cup arrives to North America next time around.

In spite of their inexperience, there are almost a dozen players playing at the highest level in Europe, which is unprecedented. Pulisic is the obvious one having become a European champion since the debacle at Trinidad and Tobago. Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig, Weston McKennie at Juventus, Timothy Weah at Lille and Yunus Musah at Valencia are all understandably providing huge grounds for optimism.

Qualifying for inclusion in the pots today at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center hasn’t been completely straightforward. Losing 2-0 to the resurgent Costa Rica at the Estadio Nacional in San Juan on Wednesday night was the epitome of struggling over the line but theirs has been a mediocre campaign which could ultimately prove to be a beneficial one.

“It’s amazing what this group of guys have been able to do over these last seven months,” Berhalter told the media after Wednesday’s match, clearly relieved to simply get back qualified.

“I’ve really seen the team grow and this is a great accomplishment…. I don’t think that has sunk in yet. Just being at a World Cup as a player is one of the most special things you can do. Now to be doing it as a coach with this group of players is something special.”

If an unconvincing third-placed qualification helps postpone any hype for three or four years, then maybe they can avoid another suitcase of fireworks exploding and knocking out innocent bystanders for at least a couple of generations. The future is bright and time is on their side.



Most Popular