Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino downplayed the controversy surrounding an advertisement featuring Landon Donovan expressing support for Mexico, the United States’ biggest rival in soccer, in the World Cup.
Donovan is considered one of the greatest players in U.S. history. He has 157 appearances for the U.S. men’s national team and scored 57 goals. He was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times.
With that resume, it’s no wonder that Donovan was roundly ripped for appearing in an ad in which he pledges support for the Mexican national team, which defeated Germany 1-0 on Sunday in its first game in Russia.
Martino, a native of Argentina and who has managed the national teams for Paraguay (2007-11) and Argentina (2014-16), said that he has been involved in soccer for so long, that he’s doesn’t really see clubs (other than Newell’s Old Boys) or countries anymore. Instead, he supports teams because likes the way they play.
“I don’t see the game from a fan’s standpoint anymore,” he said. “I view it as someone who watches teams and like how they play. So, with Brazil, if I like how they play, even though it’s a rival of Argentina I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Some consider there to be a difference in appreciating another style of play and a blanket support for a rival country. That difference is what has set off the criticism of Donovan.
The ad, sponsored by Wells Fargo, was met this weekend with a one-word response from Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra, capped more than 100 times by the U.S. and who captained them in a World Cup, who tweeted from @BocaBoca3 “Really?”
That response started a small twitter storm.
First, Donovan responded to Bocanegra: “You grew up in SoCal and owe much of your soccer skill to playing with Mexicans. Your father is of Mexican descent. Look around our country, are you happy with how we are treating Mexicans? Open your mind, stand for something & remember where you came from.”
That response was criticized by many.
Herculez Gomez, former U.S. men’s national team player and now an ESPN analyst, tweeted that there’s a difference between supporting Mexico the country and disliking the Mexican national team.
ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, a former U.S. men’s national team player, tweeted that he’d rather cut off a toe than root for Mexico.
Donovan is the all-time leading scorer in MLS history. He retired following the 2016 season, but signed with Club Leon in Mexico in Jan. 2018. The club released him on Sunday.
Several Atlanta United’s players didn’t offer an opinion on the ad.
Goalkeeper Alec Kann said he’s tired of watching Germany win, so Mexico’s win over the European giants on Sunday wasn’t disappointing. But Kann said he doesn’t want to see Mexico win the World Cup.
Kann said he didn’t have an opinion about Donovan’s ad.
“He probably knows what he’s doing better than anyone,” Kann said. “He’s one of the biggest American legends there is.”
Atlanta United striker Romario Williams, native of Jamaica, twice declined to comment.