HOUSTON -- Mexican players wore a little more relief and a little less rancor as they exited the building Wednesday, apparently content with the team's most recent result against the United States, a 2-2 draw.
The previous nine matches on U.S. soil had left El Tri feeling a bit put upon, a little unlucky, and maybe just a little confused. The Mexicans didn't seem to be playing poorly in the series, but they never got the preferred result. In fact, they had managed just one tie in that span, along with eight bruising losses.
So the previous postgame departures were usually rife with talk about the "better team" losing. Manager Hugo Sanchez huffed about the conditions of the pitch after both of last year's losses to the United States.
This time the manager and his players seemed more satisfied with the outcome.
"We know we have the quality, that we're intending to dominate each game," said Jonny Magallon, who twice beat U.S. defender Drew Moor to the right spot on set pieces to record both Mexico goals. "We know that we've created chances, and we just have to be more consistent and stay on this path."
Even U.S. manager Bob Bradley credited the Mexican team for playing with more fluidity, which is never easy in the tightly contested rivalry. Both teams worked hard to close space in midfield and shut off supply to opposition forwards. Bradley said the Mexican team moved well under pressure and was a little better at keeping possession tight spaces.
Like Bradley, Mexican players were generous in their postgame sentiments. Midfielder Fernando Arce talked about the rivalry, noting the positive aspects of the United States' improvement the past 10 years.
"It's good for the U.S. to catch up with Mexico, because it allows for really good games like today," he said. "Historically, we have always had very good games against the United States, and that's what makes it a big classic."
Neither team could find the chances early, but Mexico began to assume control after about 20 minutes. Antonio De Nigris surely could have done more with a point-blank volley in the 24th. Salcido was causing particular trouble, and El Tri retained the offensive pressure over the next 10 or so minutes until Oguchi Onyewu's pin-point header against the run of play.
However, the set pieces that have long been a strong point in Mexico's game guided Sanchez's men during their resilient performance. They rallied twice to overcome one-goal margins, which may have made the draw a little more palatable, still.
In a bit of a surprise, Sanchez chose to keep teen star Giovanni Dos Santos on the bench to start the match. That was in contrast to the choice made by his U.S. counterpart, Bradley gave 18-year-old Jozy Altidore the starting assignment.
Instead, Dos Santos entered the match in the 67th minute, replacing De Nigris. He stepped onto the field at the same time as young attacker Antonio Naelson.
Dos Santos's 23 minutes were fairly quiet, although he did speed past U.S. left back Ramiro Corrales on one occasion. The American defender, scrambling to keep up all night, was forced to foul the speedy Barcelona attacker just outside the penalty area.
Mexico chose to scale back the tough talk prior to Wednesday's contest -- although Sanchez did remind all that most matches in the increasingly lopsided series were being played north of the border. On that matter, the Mexicans will soon get some relief.
Because the teams are likely to meet in World Cup qualifying next year (once each on either side of the border), Thursday's was the last friendly until 2010 at the earliest, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said before the match.
Bradley has expressed interest in playing future friendlies in Mexico City, which Gulati said he also supported.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.