Landon Donovan’s Wells Fargo Advertisement Damages the Past, Present, and Future of US Soccer

Landon Donovan shows his support for Mexico. Image: Wells Fargo

Even though the United States and Mexico are two of the three co-hosts for the 2026 World Cup – Canada being the third – USMNT and LA Galaxy legend Landon Donovan’s calls in a recent Wells Fargo ad for American fans to support Mexico in the World Cup proved deeply polarizing. NBC Sports pundit and recent candidate for President of the US Soccer Federation Kyle Martino was quick to criticize Donovan on Twitter:

Can’t tell u how disappointing it is to have made personal & financial sacrifices to try & hold our federation accountable only to see former USMNT players profit off the result of that poor governance by asking US fans to support our rivals in the tournament we failed to reach.”

Martino was not alone in speaking out against Donovan’s sponsored statement. When called out by former USMNT player Carlos Bocanegra, whose father was born in Mexico, Donovan questioned what he deemed Bocanegra’s true heritage. In a now-deleted tweet, Donovan said Bocanegra should “stand for something and remember where [Bocanegra] came from,” with the implication that Bocanegra should have more of a connection to his father’s birth nation.  

Growing up in the greater Los Angeles area, Donovan learned to speak Spanish in school, as well as speaking it on the field playing for Hispanic youth teams. His origins, coupled with his recent stint as a player for Liga MX side Club Leon, demonstrate Donovan has a personal connection to both Mexican football and Latin culture. Mexico may very well be his “other” team, but his sponsored advocacy of that position to the broader public was inappropriate.

By referring to the Mexican National Team as “us,” as he does in the advertisement, Donovan neglects the real rivalry between both teams, and the choices many potential dual nationals have to make over who to represent internationally. Lastly, his dismissive reference to the USA’s failure to make the World Cup as simply “ok” belittles the regression US soccer has seen and hinders the already lengthy process of reforming the USMNT. Landon’s comments, especially coming from a national team legend, carry a weight he clearly didn’t consider.

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Landon Donovan being unveiled as a Club Leon player. Image:

The rivalry between the United States and Mexico has been one of the true unifiers for a culturally and geographically diverse “American Outlaws” fanbase. The first clash between these border rivals was in 1934, a FIFA World Cup qualifier that ended in a 4-2 United States win. Since that first match, U.S vs Mexico has been a fixture fueled by passion and mired in controversy. While the U.S do have the luxury of the infamous “dos a cero” chant, which spawned from a 2001 win over El Tri in a World Cup qualifier, Mexico have held a modern span of dominance over the U.S. Mexico have beaten the USMNT in four out of five Gold Cup finals, most recently in 2011, and have won the last two matches played on American soil. The next meeting between the two sides, a friendly on September 11th in Nashville, will give Mexico the chance to win a historic three straight matches in America’s backyard. The lack of importance placed on this rivalry by Landon Donovan, who made his USMNT debut against Mexico in 2000, is a slap in the face to both his own legacy as a national team captain, as well as the future efforts the U.S attempts to make to compete with their rival below the border.

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Heated confrontation between El Tri and the USMNT. Image: Seattle Sounders

The talent pool for the United States has a large number of potential dual nationals – that is, players who could have the choice to play for Mexico by virtue of their parents’ birthplace. The difference between one player swapping allegiances between the two nations might not make a huge dent in the quality of the side ten years down the road, but losing four, five, or more prospects certainly will. Take the case of Efrain Alvarez. The highly touted LA Galaxy youth product played for US youth teams, but was poached away by Mexico after promises of more playing time. Alvarez, now 16, has scored 6 goals in his six matches with the LA Galaxy II side this season, and looks like one to watch. Alvarez was consistently called up for USMNT youth sides, but after the United States left him out of a U15 training camp, he joined the Mexican youth ranks. Winger Ulysses Llanez is a teammate of Alvarez on the Galaxy reserve side, yet he currently plays for the United States. Held in high regard by his club, he looks to have a promising future. Meanwhile, Alejandro Alcala (known as the Mexican Messi at the age of 13), Ricardo Pepi, and Edwin Lara have all currently elected to play for Mexico. The potential for these youth players to switch sides further exemplifies the potential harm behind Donovan’s advertisement: why would a highly-rated prospect commit to the USMNT when one of the United States’ own legends is so publicly backing the Mexican side currently playing in Russia?  

Crying Pulisic
A distraught Christian Pulisic immediatly following the USMNT’s failure to qualify. Image: Forbes

For American fans, this World Cup should be a time of introspection and hurt. This nation has spent twenty years trying to prove to the world that they can be just as soccer-centric as their European and South American counterparts, yet for the first time in decades America will not be represented at the biggest stage in world football. Without the American people demanding change in the flawed USSF, American soccer will continue to stagnate; by advocating for support of America’s principal footballing rival, Donovan is distracting from this process. While both the casual American fan and the more serious one should remain invested in this World Cup – for example, the Corner Kick editorial board support France, Spain, and Uruguay, despite having few geographic ties to those nations – the primary focus for American fans should be on revamping the football in the nation closest to home. In less than a decade, America will become the primary hosts for the biggest football show on earth.The potential success or failure of the USMNT in that tournament starts today with or without Donovan’s unconditional support.


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