Photo by ISIphotos.com
MORELIA, Mexico — To say that Landon Donovan is Public Enemy No. 1 when he faces Mexican opposition may be a bit of an understatement.
Ahead of Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League match with Morelia, the perception that Mexicans have of the Los Angeles Galaxy captain is that of a vile man, who people in a local marketplace label a "racist" and someone who undoubtedly "hates Mexicans." Away from the marketplace, the perception is no different at the training ground high above the Estadio Morelos on Monday, where a fan shouted his own expletive filled rant at Donovan, "Donovan! [Blank] you [blank]. Your ass is mine [blank]!"
The message from the Mexican public seems clear: Many of the Morelia fans will be attending the match for their own chance to tell off one of the biggest villains in Mexico. In the intimate Estadio Morelos, Donovan will be able to hear every chant directed his way. Despite all the harsh words and false accusations, all Donovan can do is brush off the hatred.
"There's nothing I can do about that, it's beyond my control," Donovan said. "I grew up with a lot of Latin Americans and I got friends that are from all parts of Central America and Mexico. It is ignorant, because there is no knowledge beyond it, but it is what it is."
The story of Donovan's villain status in Mexico is not a new one. Much of it stems from his success against the Mexican national team, against whom he has scored five goals while playing for the U.S. national team, including one in this past summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
The dislike also emanates from Donovan's famed urinating incident at Guadalajara's Estadio Jalisco in 2004 while playing with the U.S. Under-23 national team, an episode that Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena says has been greatly "distorted."
The stigma from the incident as well as his goals have created a perfect storm of hatred around Donovan, who always receives added attention when he lines up against Mexican opposition, whether it be at the club or international level. When questioned about the perception and accusations that surrounded Donovan from members of the public, one member of the Galaxy admitted that it's simply part of the game.
"It's something that he's had to deal with in these countries," said defender Todd Dunivant. "Because players who are that good and have played that many games against Mexico in high-level competitions -– thinking back to '02 and the World Cup on down to the qualifiers and the friendlies every year -– there's no wonder there's a little ill will there and they’re going to invent things in their mind."
On Tuesday, Donovan will not line up against El Tri, but against Morelia, who are eager to pull ahead of the Galaxy for supremacy in Group A. Currently the Galaxy are perched on top of the group with six points in two matches while Morelia sits in third in the group with three points.
Without David Beckham or Juninho to lighten his load in the midfield, Donovan will need a big game against Monarcas if the Galaxy are to join FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders on the growing list of MLS teams that have earned victories in Mexico. Donovan relishes the challenge that comes with attempting to join that prestigious list.
"[I enjoy it] mainly because they're good teams and they're challenging to play against," said Donovan. "Their [Morelia] games are on TV here at night, and I got to watch one of their games and the game against Cruz Azul, the other day, but they're just a good team and they’re going to be challenging in a lot of different ways."
Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, Donovan's status among the Mexican public will likely not change, but there is a glimmer of hope. While many will travel to Estadio Morelos eager to hoot and holler at Donovan, the mood is quite different when members of the public come in contact with the Galaxy midfielder.
Following the Galaxy's training on Monday, Donovan was a popular target of autograph hounds and many others seeking to pose for a picture with the Galaxy midfielder. Although many of these fans may be among the potentially 30,000 cursing his name on Tuesday night, it is this balance between hatred on the field and kindness off of it that Donovan truly enjoys.
"What I realize is that, when you're on the field, they all yell at you and support their team, but when you see them on the street, everyone is respectful and nice," said Donovan. "That's how it should be."