Landon Donovan has always had a special relationship with Mexico. As the star of the United States team back when the U.S.-Mexico rivalry was at its most intense, the Mexicans made Donovan out to be public enemy number one. That Donovan, who is always candid, never hid his disdain for the Mexican team did not help matters and neither did his urinating on the side of a field in Jalisco.
But there is more to the relationship between Donovan and Mexico than just the hate. The Mexicans also respect Donovan as a player, recognizing the terror he has been for Mexico at times. The American also speaks Spanish, which makes him a favorite interview for the Mexican media and further endears him to the Mexicans, in his own special way. In fact, Donovan was even used in a Mexican commercial to promote the lottery.
Through good and bad, Donovan has always been in the spotlight in Mexico. Probably more so south of the border than in the U.S., he is the face of American soccer.
Because of that relationship and status, whenever the U.S. plays Mexico, all eyes are on Donovan. And when the U.S. plays Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday, that will be doubly true.
Jurgen Klinsmann left many of his best players with their clubs and as a result, the only obvious first team players on the U.S. team for Wednesday are Donovan, Tim Howard and Fabian Johnson. But Howard is a goalkeeper and Johnson is still working his way into the team. That leaves Donovan.
When the understrength U.S. team stands across from Mexico, everyone will be looking at Donovan. That is always the case for the Mexican media and fans, but that'll ve very true of the Mexican team too, because if Donovan doesn't have a great match then the U.S. is in trouble.
While the U.S. has taken a weakened squad to Mexico City, Mexico has close to a first team. They are also missing some key players, but they have much more of their first XI than the U.S. and they are already the better side when at full strength. Toss in the fans at Azteca, Mexico's heat, smog and altitude and that the U.S. is winless against Mexico on Mexican soil and it doesn't bode well for the Americans.
Donovan will have to be the Americans' talisman at Azteca. He will have to see a lot of the ball, he will have to be clever with it and when the U.S. is under pressure, which they probably will be often, he has to be the one to settle things down. He will have to be everything for the U.S. because there is no Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley or even Steve Cherundolo or Carlos Bocanegra.
It is just Donovan and the spotlight is on him. He's coming off of a brilliant match for the LA Galaxy where he had four assists in a 4-0 win and while nobody is expecting four assists at Azteca, he is going to have to play just as well. That is just about the Americans' only hope.