GLENDALE, Ariz. – Where Landon Donovan goes the media horde tends to follow, especially when it comes to the buildup to United States-Mexico.
But on Tuesday Donovan admitted this could be the last time he helps stoke the flames before the region’s biggest rivalry, implying that time may be running out on the international careers of a few of Jurgen Klinsmann’s 20-man roster, himself included.
“For many of us, it could be the last time we play against Mexico,” Donovan said. “It's always special, a little more now because we have two months until the start of the World Cup and with so many people here it will be an amazing night for everyone.”
More than 50,000 tickets have been sold to Wednesday night’s match at University of Phoenix Stadium (11 pm ET, ESPN and UniMas), and the atmosphere, despite the friendly tag attached, promises to be something of a dry run for what awaits both the USMNT and Mexico in Brazil.
“It’s going to be a real game,” Donovan said. “It’s going to be a game probably similar to what we can see in Brazil with a big stadium, big crowd, big stakes – a lot on the line. We feel like this is an opportunity to take a step forward in the right direction and we want to make the most of it.”
Translation: US-Mexico is a friendly in name only.
For both sides, regional pride comes first in this border war, with the US holding the upper hand recently after finishing first in the Hexagonal, following another "Dos a Cero" victory in Columbus and a historic draw at Estadio Azteca.
But what really tipped the scales in the Americans' favor was Graham Zusi's game-winning goal in Panama on the final matchday of CONCACAF qualifying, one that saved Mexico’s Hexagonal blushes and gifted them a place in a World Cup playoff against New Zealand.
It’s been a constant source of material for the Mexican press contingent since last fall, with Zusi receiving a bottle of tequila in appreciation from a reporter on Monday. Meanwhile, El Tri manager Miguel Herrera was asked on Tuesday what his side owed the Americans.
"They're the ones who owe us more. Look at California,” Herrera said with a chuckle before taking a more serious tone. “I think it's football, they went and did what they had to do, they're professionals.
“USA has always shown to be a very professional side, which goes out and tries to win everything. We don't owe them anything. I'm sure they didn't go out there thinking about winning the game so that Mexico would qualify.”
Donovan, meanwhile, passed on an opportunity to rub salt in El Tri’s wound – “I honestly don’t give it much thought” – choosing instead to channel his focus on preparing for what is likely to be his fourth and final World Cup and showing well in perhaps his last installment of a rivalry he helped tip in the US’ favor.
“I think for all of us the end of the tunnel is near. We can see the light, and we can see Brazil in the forefront,” Donovan said. “We’re excited about it, one last chance to show Jurgen up close what we’re about. We’re going to make the most of it.”