CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan is a bit more diplomatic these days when it comes to voicing his thoughts on the United States national team's rivalry with Mexico, but it is unlikely that his opinions have changed much.
Nowadays, Donovan's words are carefully chosen rather than provocative, and he was so intent on not fuelling the Mexican fans' feelings of animosity towards him that he opted to speak only once to the media during the California portion of the buildup to Wednesday's "friendly" in Houston.
Yet, the 25-year-old would still love nothing more than to continue the U.S.'s dominance over its neighbourly rival and provide the perfect response to the taunts and jeers he will inevitably receive from the Mexican contingent at Reliant Stadium.
There is not much Donovan can do about the fact that Mexico's supporters can't stand him. After all, his arrival on the international scene in 2000 coincided with the start of a run that has seen the U.S. win eight of its last nine games between the teams on American soil. More seriously, as far as the Mexicans are concerned, is that he committed the most heinous of crimes by knocking their team out of the 2002 World Cup. There's even an undying rumor that he once urinated on the stadium grass during an away match in Mexico.
Whereas once the baiting and booing rattled Donovan, he now embraces the role of villain with a degree of enthusiasm.
"It is fun for me, probably because we are winning," he said. "I have learned to enjoy being singled out. At first I used to think, 'Why are they picking one me?' but now it is fun.
"It is flattering in a way. I know why they are upset. It is because I have played a part in beating them a few times. That hurts them and makes them want to beat us so much more.
"You know, it is a friendly, but there are psychological and mental and confidence advantages ahead of next year's World Cup qualifiers if we beat them again. We want to keep pushing them down and keeping them down."
Ahead of a qualifier in 2005, Donovan made a series of inflammatory comments about the extent of his desperation to beat the Mexicans and his general contempt for their team and fans. In fairness to him, he was reacting after receiving some fairly seriously provocation himself, after Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez made disparaging remarks about his mother in a magazine interview.
Now, Donovan goes about things in a more subtle fashion by cranking up the mental pressure on Hugo Sanchez's young Mexico team.
"There is an understanding among all the guys in our squad that it is not OK to come in here and lose to Mexico," Donovan said. "Anyone who has not played in the game finds that out really quick.
"Mexico's mental weakness right now is that they are probably pressing and trying so hard to beat us that it becomes our advantage."
Bob Bradley's U.S. team goes into the matchup bolstered by several, but not all, of his European-based players. The call-ups include Tim Howard, Freddy Adu, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra.
However, even without a fully loaded squad, Donovan has no doubt that another victory is well within the U.S.'s reach.
"It is bound to happen that eventually they can beat us," he admitted. "It is not like we are playing a bad team – but we are proud of the record and we want to keep it going. I am sure it will change one time, but I hope it doesn't any time soon.
"We have played them in all kinds of situations and we know we have what it takes to win again."