I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few words about this whole Landon Donovan rooting for Mexico controversy. Let’s start from the top… If you didn’t see it over the weekend, former USMNT team captain Landon Donovan shared on Twitter a picture of him holding up a Mexico soccer scarf that read “Mexico Is My Other Team” and his tweet stated:
"The tournament is here! USA fans, our team may not be in Russia, but our neighbors to the south are. So join me and their proud #sponsor @WellsFargo to cheer on our other team, Mexico @miseleccionmxEN. ¡Vamos México!"
Ok, we have so much to unpack here. First, Landon Donovan isn’t just any average USMNT player. He has been the face of U.S. Soccer for nearly 20 years. In retirement he is still one of the most recognizable U.S. players to the casual American soccer fan. He shouldered the burden of Major League Soccer for his entire career. He is a pillar in U.S. Soccer and a member of the U.S. Mount Rushmore. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but for him to sell his soccer soul and publically support our federations biggest rival is unfathomable. Landon essentially is/was U.S. Soccer!
Could an American sports fan imagine Derek Jeter wearing a Boston Red Sox hat and saying “Go Red Sox”? Or how about Patrick Roy donning a Detroit Red Wings jersey and encouraging the Red Wings to win Lord Stanley’s Cup? Would it not be sacrilege for Aaron Rodgers to wear a Brian Urlacher jersey and cheer for the Bears to bring home the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Windy City? As preposterous as all that sounds, times it by 100 and you start to understand the magnitude of such a move.
Hey look, I get it, Donovan has embraced Mexican culture from a young age, given his adolescence being spent playing on the soccer fields in Southern California. He speaks fluent Spanish, he recently came out of retirement (again) to play in the Mexican professional league. Even with all of that, openly supporting your biggest rival in a tournament your national team failed to qualify for is surreal to a fan like myself.
One more caveat here, Donovan is essentially being a corporate shill for Wells Fargo. You know, the company that was fined $1 billion and fired thousands of employees for opening fake accounts, double charging customers and committing a myriad of other shady business practices. Wells Fargo has been in crisis mode since this information became public and is in the midst of a massive public relations crusade. As if Donovan’s “Yay Mexico” message wasn’t tumultuous enough, throw in the poorly timed Wells Fargo partnership and it becomes easy to see how thoughtless LD was in entering into this paid promotion.
Support Mexico if you want. Some soccer fans may enjoy their style of play, the attacking prowess, the speed and creativity, etc. all of that could be considered reasonable. Others may hate the Mexican national team and what it represents. To many, the U.S. / Mexico rivalry is much more than just a soccer game, it transcends into a cultural battle that bleeds into a political fight. That doesn’t mean you hate or wish ill will towards Mexicans- as Landon implied with his responses to the backlash- it simply means you unabashedly champion the United States above all else.
No matter what side you support, for the figurehead of U.S. Soccer to expect nothing but kittens and rainbows in response to such a public display of support for the federations most brutal rival is shortsighted. Landon, many of us looked up to you growing up. We revered your tenacity and for embodying the traditional American spirit on the field. We rooted for you when the “other side” spat and hurled explicit rhetoric at you. I can only hope the tainted legacy and repercussions were worth the few bucks Wells Fargo paid.