As the 2018 World Cup gets underway, it seems like there are an ever expanding number of ways that American fans can experience the tournament. They can look on in embarrassment or anger at the fact that the USMNT didn’t qualify for the tournament while paging through Bruce Arena’s new book. Another option is picking a different team to root for. Americans whose families immigrated recently often choose to support the teams of their parents or grandparents to have a familial connection to the tournament and the sport. Others may not know that they have relatives from Glogau in the Kingdom of Prussia and should thus support Poland and pledge their fealty to King William I. Luckily, Fox advertiser 23 and Me would be happy to sell them a DNA test to dig up that information and guide the very important team selection process.
While it might seem reasonable for fans to engage with the tournament by picking a team to support, it’s unexpected that former USMNT players are doing the same - and yet, more unexpected is that the adopted team they’re picking is Mexico. So, what’s going on with that? Things more or less kicked off with former USMNT players expressing their support for El Tri when Alexi Lalas donned a Mexico kit for Fox, “The Home of El Tri.”
With all these World Cup roster announcements, we might as well show off ours.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 15, 2018
SQUAD. GOALS. pic.twitter.com/HwgoLTCujt
This just seems... strange. In the past Lalas has decried diversity and even declared that “There’s only one national team” on air during a Copa America broadcast about Mexican-Americans wearing El Tri kits on their way to a match between Chile and Mexico. It doesn’t seem like this is coming from a place of any desire to genuinely support Mexico. Rather, it looks like Fox has decided that the way to cover the World Cup with the USA at home is to appeal to a massive audience of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans that it just recently realized was an audience it should entertain and that Lalas has in the past criticized.
Overall, the Fox coverage of the tournament has been lacking. Aside from the network using remote broadcasts to call games from studios in the US, somehow they’re being outdone by ESPN who has a bigger team in Russia to cover the biggest event in the world. The bottom-line driven Fox coverage is clearly based on appealing to a mass audience by focusing on Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and building the coverage around stars rather than the entire event itself. In addition to the smaller team covering the World Cup, what has been offered hasn’t been well researched and is filled with cliches or odd comments like - “A gaze into the brain that is constantly working” - whatever that means. Similarly, rather than giving billing to every story or letting the narrative of the tournament unfurl and have it lead the story that Fox tells, the network is following marketing revenue by appealing to the Mexican audience.
Joining Lalas in his support of Mexico, or at least in support of advertisers, is another former USMNT legend, Landon Donovan. Soak this one in:
The tournament is here! USA fans, our team may not be in Russia, but our neighbors to the south are. So join me and their proud #sponsor @WellsFargo to cheer on our other team, Mexico @miseleccionmxEN. ¡Vamos México! pic.twitter.com/YIifLGCT0D— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) June 16, 2018
And go ahead and give this a watch.
The ad also ran with an interview that Donovan did with NBC Sports in which he said, “The only Mexico I had known was being in a stadium of 100,000 people booing me. I didn’t know any other Mexico. Having the chance to be around these people and make friends there has really given me a new appreciation for everyone.” Of course, Donovan also played soccer most recently in Mexico for Club Leon. When he joined the team he said, “I don’t believe in walls, I want to go to Mexico, wear green and win trophies with Leon.”
Overall, this seems like a great sentiment and as someone who has lived and worked in Mexico, I can relate to the point he is making and would even be happy for El Tri to do well in Russia personally. If more Americans shared his sentiment, it would certainly go a long way in bringing our countries together rather than saying Mexico is responsible for all of the problems in the United States. But this isn’t Landon going out on his own and doing interviews on his own volition or just taking to Twitter and posting the photo himself - it’s him doing an ad for a Wells Fargo, a bank that was accused of discriminating against Latino home buyers, and an interview timed with the roll out of a Modelo beer ad.
If Donovan’s comments seem a bit strange to fans, they are all the more odd to past USMNT players. His former teammate Carlos Bocanegra was incredulous, simply quote-tweeting Landon with the caption, “Really?”
In response, Landon decided to soccersplain to the former USMNT captain about his Mexican-American heritage saying, “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.” OK, Landon.
In turn, Herculez Gomez came to his fellow Mexican-American’s defense, tweeting:
This is an incredibly terrible take. Questioning ones loyalties to culture and/or heritage because HE questioned YOU for taking marketing dollars to “root” for your SPORTING RIVAL?— herculez gomez (@herculezg) June 16, 2018
You can hate El Tri- this doesn’t mean you have anything against Mexicans. ✊ https://t.co/xF9JCI1qBC
For those keeping score at home that would be Herculez Gomez and Carlos Bocanegra dos, Landon Donovan cero.
Aside from the beef between former USMNT players, the entire episode says something about the relationship between the US and Mexico both beyond and within the world of soccer. It is happening while the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, has based much of his presidency on casting Mexico and Latin America in general as an enemy.
Just last week, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, quoted a Bible verse cited by fascists in the past to justify the separation and imprisonment of children seeking asylum or whose parents try to cross the border. Yes, even children and babies coming to the United States from Mexico are presented as a national security threat by the Trump administration. This came during the same week that the United Bid, which heavily favored the US in terms of hosting the number of matches, was awarded the World Cup in 2026.
In response to winning the right to host, Lalas thanked Trump on Twitter:
Meanwhile, Donovan and Lalas can say that Americans should support Mexico in the World Cup, and why shouldn’t we? Americans seem to have a deep and vast appreciation for products, commodities, and labor from Mexico. Salsa is the number one condiment purchased in the country; you can get a taco anywhere from El Paso, Texas to Bangor, Maine; Americans use Mexican labor not only in the US, but also in the maquiladoras across the border which export products Hecho en Mexico to the States.
It would seem that Donovan and Lalas want to extend that sentiment to another Mexican product that can be sold to Americans: El Tri. However, used in a marketing ploy, the team is yet another in the long list of Mexican products commodified for Americans as something our country can buy and dispose of as needed while our national policies inflict unnecessary and internationally condemned suffering on the nation that produces them.