MORELIA, Mexico -- The Galaxy's training session Monday evening at Estadio Morelos had just begun when a voice boomed out from the hills towering above the facility, delivering an expletive-filled rant directed at Landon Donovan.
The message, in unaccented English, was clear: Forget you!
That's the cleaned-up version, of course, and it's a sentiment shared by many Mexicans, stemming largely from a 2004 incident in which Donovan, preparing for an Olympic qualifying showdown, urinated on the field during a training session at Guadalajara's Estadio Jalisco.
That in itself is unremarkable -- players urinate on fields all over the world -- but the intensity of Mexico's rivalry with the U.S. turned it into an international matter of sorts, with El Tri's supporters accusing Donovan of insulting all of Mexico.
That's one of the things Rafael, who sells knock-off soccer jerseys at the marketplace a few blocks southeast of Morelia's main square, mentions when he says he “hates” Donovan.
“He's racist,” said the vendor. “He said he hates Mexicans.”
It's the primary issue, among Rafael and several of his colleagues working the narrow corridor in the bustling bazaar, surrounding Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League showdown with Morelia, the Galaxy's first Group A road encounter after winning twice at home in the region's club championship.
“That's why a lot of people are going to the game,” said the 30-something Rafael, who says he lived in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and says his father calls the Southland home. “To curse at Donovan.”
Thing is, it isn't so. Donovan isn't a racist, in no way hates Mexicans and has never said he does, not that Rafael and his friends were going to be convinced of that. All they want is to see him fail. And booed at every opportunity.
“There's nothing I can do about that. It's beyond my control,” Donovan said after he was told what was being said about him. “I grew up [in Redlands] with a lot of Latin Americans, and I've got friends that are from all parts of Central America and Mexico. It is ignorant because there is no knowledge beyond it, but it is what it is.”
With David Beckham back at home, Donovan has been by far the most popular Galaxy player in Morelia, besieged by autograph hounds and fans wanting a photo with him on the rare occasion he has stepped beyond the walls of the hillside resort the team is calling home for a couple of days.
“When you're on the field, they all yell at you and support their team,” Donovan said. “But when you see them on the street, everyone is respectful and nice. That's how it should be.”
Said Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant: “There may be some that believe [horrible things], but I've also seen a lot more that have wanted his autograph, that have wanted his picture. There are always going to be some fans that are thinking that way. Whatever. You can't do anything about that.”
Bruce Arena agrees.
“Realistically, anyone should care about any kind of criticism that uses the word 'hatred.' I don't know any people who enjoy not being liked or hated ...,” the Galaxy's head coach said. “Fans have the right to like or dislike. They should behave in a somewhat civil manner, and if they do that, and they object to players that they don't like, that's all part of it. It happens every day.
“If I took any of that personally, I'd be shooting people every day.”
Arena says the Guadalajara incident “snowballed” and “got distorted” and suggests that Mexico's failures the past decade against the U.S. -- and Donovan's role in that -- played a role in turning the star attacker into a hated man.
“Let's not overdo this,” said Arena, who was in charge of the U.S. national team during its decade of dominance against its archrival, “but the one area the Mexicans were clearly dominant over the U.S. heading into the last decade was soccer. And they lost that. And they didn't like that. ... Mexico has won some games [lately] with the U.S. I think they feel a little better.”
The Morelia fans might feel a little better telling Donovan exactly what they think of him.
“Listen, they're going to hate anyone wearing a white shirt [on Tuesday]. Not just Landon ...,” Arena said. “I'm certain there's a number of Mexicans who don't like Landon. And I'm sure there's a number that like him.”
NO BECKHAM: Yes, Beckham skipped the trip to Mexico, which didn't please Morelia's fans -- nor the club, which insisted the English midfielder would be arriving on a later flight, the better to keep ticket sales hopping.
Arena said the decision was made after Friday night's MLS victory over Colorado and that Beckham's ailing back, aggravated when he was undercut by Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan and landed hard, contributed to the decision.
“He was either going to play on Friday or here,” Arena said. “He should not be pressed to play in three games in a week. That's best for him. He's got a few aches and pains, and this made the most sense.”
There were a few disappointed fans at Morelia's airport and outside the Galaxy hotel when the team arrived Sunday night and Beckham wasn't there. He's never been to Mexico, and his first game south of the border was going to be a big deal.
“I understand that they're disappointed,” Arena said. “We're doing what's in the best interest of the player and the team. What can you say? It's not a traveling circus, you know. We've got to do what's in our best interest.”
WORTH NOTING: Juninho is out, suspended after a questionable red card in the victory over Costa Rican champ Alajuelense nearly three weeks ago, so L.A. will be without both of its first-choice central midfielders. The Brazilian probably couldn't play anyway, not after sustaining a hamstring strain against Colorado. ... Josh Saunders will be in the nets for the Galaxy. Donovan Ricketts, who returned from a broken arm Friday, also did not make the trip. ... Morelia is 1-1-0 in CCL play, falling, 1-0, at Alajuelense and beating Motagua, 4-0, at Morelos. ... One of Arena's best lines during a 16-minute sitdown with a small group of L.A.-area media Monday: “People hate me. Some of them are sitting here now.” ... Asked if there were fields somewhere on the planet that had not been urinated upon, Arena said: “I don't think so. If there is, I'm sure we could find a bunch of guys willing to [urinate] on it.”