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Sep 3, 2005

A score to settle

Everybody loves to hate a villain. Whether it is the bad guys of pro wrestling or the black hat-wearing cowboys in westerns, villains serve the purpose of galvanizing groups against them and in favor of a hero or heroes. For Mexican soccer fans, Landon Donovan has become that man in the black hat. Once he headed home that insurance goal against Mexico in the U.S. national team's 2-0 victory in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal victory, Donovan jumped on the fast track to becoming public enemy number one South of the border.

Donovan isn't sure when exactly he went from being just another 'gringo' to being the player who heard the loudest boos at Estadio Azteca last March, but he seems to relish the role. He couldn't hide his contempt for Mexico on Thursday, all but promising that the Mexicans would not celebrate qualifying for the World Cup, which will happen if they win or tie.

"It's not just another game for me," said Donovan. "I clearly, absolutely, desperately want to beat them.

"I just don't like the talking, I don't like the mannerisms, I don't like the way they treat us and the way they don't respect us," said Donovan. "I want that to change and I'm going to try and be a big part of that on Saturday."

What Donovan hasn't handled well is being the target of personal attacks from Mexican players, both on and off the field. There was the incident during the 2002 World Cup match when Mexican striker Luis Hernandez said, according to Donovan, that he would find Donovan's mother and kill her. The trash talking aimed at Donovan resurfaced in the spring when Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez made an insulting remark about Donovan's mother in a magazine interview.

"Some things you can shake off, some things dig deeper than soccer," said Donovan. "That's where you realize that for their country its more than that.

"I think that's what angers them about us. We have lives beyond soccer. For a lot of them they don't, players, coaches, people in Mexico, that's what they have. It's almost what makes it sweeter to beat them."

In terms of World Cup qualifying, Saturday's match isn't overly important, not with both teams on the verge of qualifying with four games remaining. What makes the latest installment of this rivalry so significant is the growing animosity that has grown ever since the Americans began challenging Mexico's dominance of the CONCACAF region, and what a victory for either team will represent.

For the Americans, a win helps erase the bad taste left by last March's loss to Mexico at Estadio Azteca and re-asserts the U.S. team's status as the best team in the region. For the Mexicans, winning their first game, and scoring their first goal on American soil in six years (a span of six matches) would support their claims that they improved since their World Cup 2002 loss to the United States and are once again the region's leader.

"No matter how many time you beat them its always 'whose the best team in CONCACAF'," said Donovan. "Why don't you look at the results? It's pretty clear.

"That's why they're talking and say what they do, because they can't do it on the field," said Donovan of Mexico's players. "That bothers them. That being said, all it takes is one result and they're going to run their mouths until the cows come home."

Defeating the Americans on Saturday would offer just that kind of opportunity. While it wouldn't exactly be revenge for the World Cup loss, Mexico would regain some of the status lost in South Korea by qualifying for the World Cup on American soil.

Donovan's face gets serious when asked about that very scenario, saying simple, "That's not going to happen." He knows what this match means for American soccer. He knows American fans are coming to Columbus from all over the country, armed with flags and ready to turn Crew Stadium into a red, white and blue labyrinth where the Mexicans, and not Donovan, will play the role of villain.

Game Previews

What in the world was Major League Soccer thinking? The biggest soccer game of the year in the United States is taking place and MLS decides to schedule a full slate of games for the same night?

It is scary to think about what attendance totals will look like for Saturday's games, which is a shame considering the quality match-ups this week.

Kansas City Wizards at MetroStars

The Metros are rested and still desperate for points. They face a Wizards squad playing without Jimmy Conrad, Diego Gutierrez and Scott Sealy, and welcome the return of Ante Razov. With a full arsenal of attacking players, the Metros should have enough to extend their home unbeaten streak to nine matches. MetroStars 2, Wizards 1.

San Jose at FC Dallas

What is going on with the Hoops? They've gone from untouchable to eight straight league matches without a win. The Earthquakes have the strength to make it nine with a stingy defense and midfield that will match FC Dallas. Look for Carlos Ruiz to offer the heroics and for FC Dallas to finally register their first victory at Pizza Hut Park.

DC United at Colorado Rapids

The Rapids have enjoyed success in recent weeks but the key reason behind that success, Jeff Cunningham, is with the U.S. national team. D.C. had been struggling but its 5-2 thrashing of Real Salt Lake on Wednesday was probably enough to straighten the champions out. The Rapids are tough at home but won't have enough to stop the visitors. D.C. United 2, Rapids 0

New England at Real Salt Lake

The Revs are starting to look like the powerhouse they started the season as. Real Salt Lake is looking like a disaster. If D.C. can score five, the Revs might match that. Revolution 4, Real Salt Lake 0.

Columbus Crew at Chivas USA

Chivas has posted two ties since the arrival of Francisco Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia. The duo has turned the Goats offense into a dangerous force. Columbus doesn't have the offensive weapons to avoid an embarrassing loss that could leave them as the new worst team in MLS. Chivas 2, Crew 1

Chicago Fire at Los Angeles Galaxy

The Galaxy is tough at home but with no Landon Donovan they might struggle to control possession. Chicago has slid to fourth pace in the East standings and now need to start working toward holding on to fourth. A loss, coupled with a Metros victory, would put the Fire in danger of missing the playoffs. Galaxy 1, Fire 1

Last week: 0-3 Overall: 50-54

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN.com and is also a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com