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Sep 5, 2005

Donovan fuels the fire

Pressure has a way of turning normally rational people just a little crazy.

This was the case following Saturday's World Cup qualifying showdown between the U.S. national team and Mexico. The Americans walked away with a convincing 2-0 win to lock up a berth in the World Cup while the Mexicans went home still in need of a point to punch their ticket to Germany.

That's when the trash talking began. The result helped relieve some pressure from Landon Donovan and helped heap even more on Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe and both responded as you might expect.

After the match, Donovan smiled wide and practically shook as he finally said two words he had been waiting to say. "They suck." Two simple words to describe Mexico, the team he despised and the team whose fans and media have adopted him as their most hated player. Donovan later added, "Hopefully this shuts them up for the next four years."

At about the same time, LaVolpe was facing the media, looking as miserable as ever. Frustrated by questions about losing to the Americans, the Argentine manager dropped the mother of all bitter remarks.

"Here, everyone's interested in baseball and American football and many people didn't even know that a soccer match was being played today," said LaVolpe. "So it's easy for them, because they aren't playing under any pressure. My mother, my grandmother or my great grandmother could play in a team like that."

It wasn't difficult to understand why LaVolpe felt compelled to take shots at an opponent he has not beaten in three trips to the United States. He must look at Bruce Arena and envy him for the lack of pressure he faces in this country. Saturday's loss was the LaVolpe's first in World Cup qualifying and yet there he was, defending his job and dealing with the possibility that Mexican soccer officials might make a move to replace him. If Arena had lost, he would have just moved on to Wednesday's match in Guatemala. Yes, Arena does have the security that comes with having guided the team to the World Cup quarterfinals, but he wouldn't have faced much pressure from losing at home to Mexico even if this were 2001 and not 2005.

That still didn't excuse's LaVolpe's pitiful pot shot, or the excuses given by so many Mexican players. The Americans didn't want to play soccer, they contend, the gringos were content to defend and 'got lucky' with their two goals. When will Mexicans figure out that just because the Americans don't want to play the game the way the Mexicans do doesn't make the U.S. team inferior. Should the Americans apologize for fielding a team of superior athletes and for playing to their strengths, rather than knocking the ball around and playing the possession game preferred by Mexico?

If a boxer faced a wrestler or martial arts expert, would they complain that their opponents didn't want to box? Sure, the American offense was basically toothless before the two-goal sequence in the second half, but the Mexican attack was a shell of the unit that played so well in this summer's Confederation's Cup. Credit for that should go to an American defense that was strong and organized and a U.S. midfield that stifled the few build-ups the Mexicans were able to put together. Eventually, it was the Mexican defense that faltered, succumbing on a pair of set pieces.

Who should LaVolpe really be upset with? He could be mad at his central midfield for not creating enough chances for forwards Jared Borgetti and Francisco Fonseco, who were rendered invisible save for the times Borgetti complained to match officials about the physical treatment from Oguchi Onyewu? He could be upset with his defense for being unable to deal with DaMarcus Beasley without fouling him and for losing focus on both of the American goals. Perhaps LaVolpe should be upset with himself for thinking that the U.S. team would be an easy opponent after beating Brazil and playing so well on this summer's Confederation's Cup.

As for Donovan's remarks, they were to be expected from a young player who has had to deal with being demonized by the Mexican media, the same media which lined up to hear his latest scathing remarks and ate up every word.

"I just hate all the talking, all the blah blah they always talk," Donovan told Mexican reporters. "(Mexicans) think they're the best, even though we've beaten them over and over. Hopefully this shuts them up."

Donovan could have held back, he could have done without the pot shots and taken the high road like American veterans Claudio Reyna and Kasey Keller, but after having to watch Mexico dash his hopes of playing in last year's Olympics and after hearing for months how Mexico's victory at Estadio Azteca in March re-established Mexico as the region's powerhouse, Donovan couldn't be blamed for screaming out and delivering a big, fat "I told you so" in English and Spanish.

Donovan's remarks are sure to be echoed and scrutinized by Mexicans for years to come, especially since he will likely face Mexico again on several occasions. LaVolpe's comments will only last as long as he will as Mexico coach, which might not be long if some certain Mexican officials have their way.

The talking should stop from both sides, at least until they arrive in Germany for next summer's World Cup. There isn't much pressure for either national team between now and next June, meaning both sides can save their breath for the next battle for CONCACAF supremacy. If we are lucky, the next installment will come at the next World Cup so Donovan and LaVolpe can either do more talking, or let the results speak for themselves.

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