Tomorrow in San Antonio, El Tri will face off against Team USA – the first time this classic rivalry will meet since Landon Donovan retired last December.
Here is a eulogy to Donovan from a lifelong El Tri fan.
Let’s start by saying that soccer in the United States is like an irrigated field; a well-planned and orderly way of cultivating the highest yields. Soccer in Mexico, on the other hand, is like crops grown by seasonal rains – it involves some planning but mostly random luck.
Landon Donovan, the most revered soccer idol in the US, could have only grown out of the distinctly American soil. Starting as a young boy, Donovan trained at a specialized soccer academy and methodically refined his talents. Donovan was hydroponic. Mexico has never had a comparable player, because we lack the machinery and the self-control to produce one.
Donovan embodies everything that Mexican soccer lacks.
But in reality, few in Mexico are interested in having what he has had.
In Mexico, soccer is a game of improvisation, something wild that grows naturally. But for that same reason, the quality is hard to control. Sometimes the good players come out rough around the edges, like Cuauhtémoc Blanco.
We’ve had some great players, though they’re rarely developed from such a young age like Donovan was. Look at three of Mexico’s most charismatic stars and it’s easy to see the difference: Jorge Campos was already a mature player on a semi-professional team in Acapulco when he was discovered by Pumas, Hugo Sánchez and Blanco learned to play on Mexico’s city streets.
Even if Mexicans prefer their stars’ unpredictability to Donovan’s meticulous style, nothing hurts more than being beaten by something you can’t attain.
No one in the country has forgotten 2002, when Donovan headed a goal in, eliminating Mexico from the Korea-Japan World Cup. Donovan was just 20 years old when he made the second goal for the United States, (with an assist from Eddie Lewis), that booted El Tri before the quarterfinals.
That was without a doubt the nation’s most poignant loss. The matches that year were aired in Mexico in the earliest hours of the morning, and that game in particular turned into a collective nightmare. From that moment on, it was clear Donovan was a unique and fully-formed entity who could carry his team to levels that nobody – especially not Mexico’s slow defenders – could have imagined.
In Donovan’s last match against Mexico before his retirement, at a 2013 World Cup qualifying round in Columbus, Ohio, he once again scored the second goal that defeated El Tri.
Just goes to show that if you invest the time and the effort, more than a decade later you can still reap the goods.
And although all of this may sound a little like Stockholm Syndrome, missing my abuser, I honestly find myself missing the best soccer player that Mexico never had.
Nothing hurts more than being beaten by something you can’t attain.