The Kids Are Alright

If there was ever a tie that felt less like kissing your sister, I've never seen it.

A lot was made of the fact that nothing much was at stake in Reliant Stadium last night; no Cups, no Championships, no World Cup slots. But amazingly, the two teams found something to play for, and managed to show us all what this rivalry can - and maybe will - be for the next decade or more.

From the US point of view, the most surprising thing was seeing guys like Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra as grizzled old veterans. Does it seem like that long ago we were worried about them being nervous and handling the pressure? And that's to say nothing of Landon "Old Man River" Donovan, whose team this clearly is now and who looks entirely comfortable in the role.

But Bradley did what everyone had hoped he would: he ran the kids out there. And you can moan to me all you want about the awful state of "youth development" in American soccer, but Altidore, Edu, Adu and Feilhaber looked confident, poised and professional. If their hearts were pounding and their knees were shaking, they sure didn't show it.

Not that it was an artistic tour de force, exactly: the US has better options at the back corners, and between Drew Moor apparently having never defended the back post in a set piece in his life before (and having "Carlos Vela" tattooed on his ass) and Ramiro Corrales seemingly determined to find out just how many 25 yard free kicks he could hand Mexico in a single game, the result could have been a lot worse.

The biggest problem for the US was in the midfield. Fine job defensively boys, but if you can't possess and distribute from the middle you're not going to beat much of anybody. We can line up first rate defensive mids out the door and down the street - and Edu, the sub. looked every bit as good or better than the others - but three or four or ten good defensive mids don't equal one solid ten shirt handling your offense, and Bradley is going to have to keep looking.

And wasn't there supposed to be some guy named Convey out there last night? Couldn't he make it?

For Mexico, Hugo Sanchez disappointed. Yes, he played Vela, and yes he played Dos Santos, but we were sort of hoping to see them at the same time, not one subbing for the other. Of course Sanchez is under a little more pressure to win - or at least not lose - than Bradley, but Bob was obviously looking a little farther into the future. Sooner or later, Hugo, these guys are going to line up for real on a frosty night in Columbus, and you're going to wish they had a few more miles under their belts.

Aside from some problems finishing, Mexico looked scary all night, and I'm not referring to their odd assortment of inexplicable haircuts and headgear. Castro kept Donovan in check on the right side a good deal of the game, and Salcedo is as cool as the other side of the pillow, but this team leans heavily on Marquez, and the confidence is well placed. Once again he was probably the best player on the field.

Oh, and a word to Tim Howard: you're the man back there, and we have every confidence in you, but that little bitch slap with de Nigris was the kind of thing that can cost us a game. We all love a fiery competitor, but that little display, combined with your coming completely unglued over the communication problems you were having with your defenders showed that maybe you're not Brad Friedel just yet.

But to me, the most significant - even Earth shattering - part of the evening was after the final whistle. You could see it coming towards the end, when Onyewu was on the ground and someone - Marquez? - offered him a hand up. You weren't sure for a second that Gooch was going to accept it, but finally he grabbed on.

After the game, the players all seemed to be sort of milling around, not quite sure what to do. Then there was some tentative back patting, a couple quick handshakes, and a genuinely friendly word - and a smile - between Marquez and Gooch.

And then it happened.

Two teams that haven't shaken a hand or acknowledged each other in five years and 8 or 10 games started swapping shirts. Magallon - two goals? are you kidding me? - did his postgame ESPN interview wearing a US jersey. Yeah, it was inside out, but somehow that made it even better.

No winner last night? Not at all. The next generation of a fierce rivalry turned the page and closed the book on the anger and the acrimony and began treating each other like respected equals.

And that sure seems like one hell of a win to me.