February 10, 2009
By Michael Lewis
HUMAN LIGHTNING ROD
Donovan always winds up in the middle of it when U.S. and Mexico tussle
Columbus, Ohio -- Like it or not, he has become the human lightning rod when the U.S. National Team takes on Mexico in any kind of soccer game.
|Landon Donovan: "I love playing against Mexico regardless of the circumstances . . .. I enjoy these games because they're special and you get to play only so many of them."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Landon Donovan has learned to live with it his personal feud with the Mexican National Team. And the way they feel about their futbol south of the Rio Grande, the feud could be with the entire country.
Asked if he was comfortable about being the point man, Donovan replied: "I'm kind of past that. I want to win the game."
And beat Mexico, of course.
A day before Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against the archrival Mexicans at Columbus Crew Soccer Stadium (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET), Donovan made sure he was toning it down. Perhaps he will open up after the referee's final whistle Wednesday night.
"I love playing against Mexico regardless of the circumstances or whatever," he said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. "Whether I am the point man, I love playing in them. . . . I enjoy these games because they're special and you get to play only so many of them."
Some of it is self-inflicted when Donovan was a bit younger and perhaps a lot less wiser in the ways of the world, international soccer and diplomacy. At the 2004 Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico, Donovan urinated on the field, leaving the Mexican fans, well, pissed.
After the U.S. bested Mexico here some four years ago to clinch a berth in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Donovan was delighted with the result.
"They suck," he said in 2005 after a 2-0 U.S. victory over Mexico at Columbus Crew Soccer Stadium. "I'm so happy, man. They made it a little bit easier on us. I expected more. After we got the first one, they were never in the game.
"The only thing sweeter would have been to score. At least for three or four more years they will shut up and can't say anything and I love it."
But Donovan has two legs to stand on when he talks like this because the U.S. has dominated the rivalry in recent years.
Once the doormats of Mexico and many other CONCACAF teams, the Americans have become the overdogs, the favorites.
Donovan has been a big reason why. He has been involved with three big wins over the Mexicans -- the 2005 World Cup qualifier here, the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal victory on neutral ground in Korea and the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup victory in Chicago.
He figured the 2002 match moved the U.S. into the CONCACAF favorites.
"After the World Cup game in 2002," he said. "There is clearly mutual respect now. I always felt there has been a mutual respect. But players from the past will tell you differently."
"The tone of it has changed. That's good. But it doesn't give us an advantage. It doesn't matter what the media is saying."
During the press conference, Donovan handled questions in English and Spanish, announcing in both languages.
He was forced to learn it while growing up in Redlands, Calif. when he played soccer in a Latino neighborhood.
"I had to learn it to get the ball," he said.
These days, he is calling Bayern Munich a temporary home. He is on loan to the German Bundesliga club from the Los Angeles Galaxy, although there is speculation that he could make a permanent move to go across the Atlantic.
He said he didn't want to talk about Bayern.
When asked a question about Bayern, Donovan responded, "Let's talk about Mexico today."
He did say that playing for Bayern doesn't prepare him for the game any differently.
"It doesn't," he said. "I've always been ready for this game. I'm excited for it. I'll be excited for it tomorrow. I'll always be excited for it wherever I am. I only travel a little more to get here."