Davies: Landon Donovan, the Mexico rivalry and me

Charlie Davies - USMNT 2009 - wide shot

Are you rooting for Mexico at the World Cup in Russia?

That's the polarizing question that has dominated the soccer conversation in recent days after Landon Donovan announced he was backing the Mexican national team in this summer’s World Cup.

June 16, 2018

One week after expressing his support for all three CONCACAF nations at the World Cup in the absence of the US national team, which failed to qualify to Russia, Donovan joined forces with El Tri corporate partner Wells Fargo to urge American soccer fans to root for Mexico, our Concacaf neighbors and biggest soccer rivals. But many, including his former US national team colleagues Carlos Bocanegra, Kyle Martino, Taylor Twellman and Cobi Jones, were not about to be swayed.

Growing up in Southern California, a place with a heavy Mexican influence, Donovan was inspired by the culture around him and that passion for soccer became instilled in him. Because of that, he has a strong connection and respect for the country to our south. He even came out of retirement to play for Liga MX side Leon.

To him, supporting El Tri means more than just supporting them on the field. It also means attacking the social issues and building bridges instead of barriers between our two nations.

And why not support them in the World Cup? After all, the US most recently won the rights to host the 2026 World Cup in a united bid with Mexico and Canada.

Well there is one very compelling reason: the rivalry.

Think Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona … and, yes, USA vs. Mexico. Those are some of the biggest rivalries in sports history, and a big part of what makes sports so special. You’re playing for more than just a win – it’s for pride, tradition and bragging rights.

The US vs. Mexico rivalry, in particular, has always been intense.

In 1997, as a wide-eyed 11-year-old boy, I was introduced to the rivalry when the two nations clashed in a World Cup qualifier in Foxborough, Mass. It was my first time attending a USMNT game, and the hype was like no other match. Sam’s Army, red-white-and-blue face paint, American flags and a sea of emerald green. Witnessing the intensity and passion for this game motivated me to pursue the ultimate dream of someday playing in this matchup for my country.

Nothing compared to it. I was hooked.

We all remember the flashpoints of the rivalry over the years: The 2002 World Cup Round of 16 when the U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 and Rafa Marquez got a red card for a vicious challenge on Cobi Jones. Three years later, Oguchi Onyewu and Jared Borgetti had their infamous staredown after Onyewu fouled the legendary Mexican striker in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.

For many who've experienced this history first hand, supporting your archenemy in any way is almost unthinkable. And I know that many Mexican fans feel the same way.

The night leading up to our qualifier in 2009 in Mexico City, El Tri fans stormed the USMNT hotel lobby, blowing horns and air guns in an attempt to disrupt our sleep. They circled the hotel all night, honking their horns and flashing their lights. We were ordered to give fake names to the front desk because they would call the hotel and ask to be connected to our room in the early morning hours.

But that’s what we loved about it. It was cutthroat. It meant everything to them and to us. The best memory I have from playing professional soccer was scoring against Mexico – with an assist from Donovan – in Estadio Azteca, where we silenced 100,000 Mexican fans.

As batteries, coins and bags of urine rained down on me, I celebrated. I knew this was what it was all about. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had on the pitch. And it was against our RIVALS. And that’s the way I want to remember it.

I mean … could you imagine Mexico winning the World Cup and going to Mexico City to celebrate with them?! I can’t. But that’s me.

There is nothing wrong with having your own opinion and expressing it – without getting personal, of course, and Donovan apologized for his response to Bocanegra – if it’s something you truly believe in. And I think on this one, Landon does. He wouldn’t have put himself out there otherwise.

Let’s not forget, this is the same Landon Donovan that shares the record for most USMNT goals and has performed at the highest levels to help propel our sport forward. No one can question his loyalty to our country and our national team. He helped build U.S. Soccer to where it is today and he helped make Dos a Cero a rallying cry.

Supporting Mexico is his choice. We’re each allowed our own.

CHARLIE DAVIES is a former US national team forward who played six seasons in MLS (D.C. United, Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution). He also starred for Sochaux (France), Hammarby (Sweden) and Randers (Denmark) in Europe. Prior to turning pro, Davies was a Hermann Trophy finalist during his collegiate career at Boston College.