Why Donovan could join the enemy
MLS star Landon Donovan's next move should be a shock transfer to Club América
Mexican fans universally despise -- yet still respect -- the U.S. national-team star
América is a giant, but could use a controversial character to reverse recent form
MEXICO CITY -- As fate would have it, Landon Donovan scored his first international goal against Mexico, in a 2-0 friendly win in 2000. Unsurprisingly, he's been reviled down here ever since.
There are many specific reasons for Donovan's being regarded with contempt, from his infamous urination in Guadalajara to his reportedly shouting "¿Donde está el México?" during the U.S.' 2-0 win in the '02 World Cup. Plus, he's constantly needling the Mexicans with razor-tongued comments like this one he said after I asked him a few weeks ago about the difficulties of playing at Estadio Azteca: "When we play Mexico anywhere else in the world, I have no doubt we beat them."
The Mexicans also despise Donovan because he has a knack of beating their beloved El Tri. Donovan has suited up 11 times against Mexico, and the U.S. is 7-2-2 in those matches. Furthermore, Donovan has scored four goals against Mexico, including the header to ice the win in the World Cup round-of-16 match in South Korea and a penalty in the '07 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
This success, of course, has also led the Mexicans' affording Donovan something else: respect. Just how much has been one of the pleasant surprises of this trip. Only in Mexico, I guess, could an American player's every word be printed and parsed ad nauseam by everyone from TV commentators to taxi drivers. Everything Donovan said leading up to last week's World Cup qualifier at the Azteca was fuel for discussion and argument.
And during the U.S. team's player introductions before kickoff, the loudest response was reserved for No. 10. Boos and whistles rained down like beer would later in the match, but a fair amount of cheers rang out as well -- and not just from the 500 or so Yanks in the corner of the upper stands.
Which has led me to one conclusion: Donovan needs to come play his club ball in Mexico ¿Loco? Perhaps. But it would also be the perfect move. And there is even a team already crying out for a game-changer (in every sense of the word) like Donovan: Club América.
Donovan has made a lot of noise lately about leaving MLS. He figures the time has come to test himself at a higher level (and make some more dinero at the same time).
His loan move to Bayern Munich this past winter made one thing clear: He does not belong in Germany. He obviously would fit better someplace where his crafty counterattack style and laid-back SoCal demeanor are accepted and encouraged. Many people have mentioned Spain or Italy.
But the truth is, the Mexican Primera División is perfect for Donovan. First of all, he could probably triple his salary right away. But more important, the Mexican playing style fits him to a T. Technical and possession-oriented, there is less defensive pressure on the ball than in MLS and more encouragement of individual talent and quick attacking moves. Donovan would thrive on the field.
Off the field, Donovan, who already speaks decent Spanish, would be an immediate icon: the first gringo superstar in the Mexican leagues. Several Americans have done well in Mexico, including former Cruz Azul captain Cle Kooiman and former Pumas All-Star Mike Sorber. There is also the current crop of Americans of Mexican descent, including Pachuca's José Francisco Torres, San Luis' Michael Orozco (who scored on Sunday, by the way), Tigres' Edgar Castillo and Indios de Juárez's Marco Vidal.
But Donovan is on a whole other level. He is a globally recognized star, the leading scorer in U.S. history. Considering his controversial history with Mexico, his signing would either spark riots or fiestas. Probably both, as it would be both a form of treason and yet also a kind of rapprochement. Which is why Donovan's Mexican adventure would be so enticing to a club like América.
América is one of Mexican fútbol's giants, of course, whose home stadium is the Azteca. Winners of 10 league championships and five CONCACAF titles, the club long has positioned itself as CONCACAF's most international club -- it was the first Mexican side to play outside the country -- and its deep-pocketed owners often have courted controversial personalities, such as Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Luis Roberto "Zague" Alves.
Las Águilas have fallen on hard times lately, though. They finished eighth overall in the '09 Clausura, 13th in the '08 Apertura and 18th -- bottom of the table -- in the '08 Clausura. If they don't have a good season in the current '09 Apertura (they're in seventh place after getting their first win this past weekend), they'll be strong candidates for relegation, even with the Byzantine complexities of the Mexican relegation system, which are blatantly designed to protect the big clubs.
Relegation for América would be an unmitigated disaster, not only for the club but also for the league. The club obviously needs to do something. Something big. Aside from acquiring someone like Lionel Messi, what would be bigger than signing Mexico's most hated adversary?
"He would be one of the best players in the Primera División," an América fan told me when I mentioned the hypothetical move. He was smiling and seemed ready to see it happen immediately. "Then we sign [Juan Román] Riquelme, bring back Blanco and win the championship."