I haven’t yet finished watching the USA vs Mexico game from this Wednesday. I’ve only gotten to halftime, but I figured I’d post this juicy tidbit from Tim Howard as reported by the Washington Post’s Steve Goff.

“It seems like when we come to a place like this, the most intimidated person in the stadium is the referee,” Howard said. “The bar was probably tilted in their favor, and that’s unfortunate because it was a hard-fought game. We went in hard, they went in hard, and for some reason, we keep coming out with the foul.”

My first recollections of USA vs Mexico were of a USA team that was athletic, but unskilled. And a Mexican team that was just so far above the USA they played with them like you’d play with a child. Tease them a little with the ball, let them come chase you, then run them over.

Then, at some point in the mid 90’s the little kids grew up. I think for Mexico it was that point in the relationship where you realize your kid is bigger than you, faster than you, has more endurance than you. You can no longer pull the ball back from him because he’s wise to that game, beats you to it, knocks you over, and then asks “Daddy are you OK?”.

So for the past few years, Mexico has been unable to beat the USA anywhere but at home in Azteca stadium with the advantage of altitude, smog, and about a hundred thousand rabid fans. When playing Mexico, the USA plays disciplined, compact, and steady. Mexico had no answer to speed guys like Beasley, Donovan, Johnson (during his 5mins of fame), Altidore, and now Davies. And on set pieces, the USA could bring forward a half dozen guys who were a threat in the air.

Mexico has finally responded a little bit to the USA style of play. It took several years, but the Mexican team has transformed from a slooooowww, methodical, plodding walrus. You could see the change happening. Over the last year or two Mexico has played the US tougher and tougher. But they’ve always reeked a little of desperation. And all it would take is one counter-attack and they’d fall apart.

In this game, they had a little more patience and calm. When the USA scored first, they stayed composed. Stay the course. Don’t hang your head. They knew they would have and keep possession of the ball, they just had to not make mistakes and turnovers. The biggest difference I saw yesterday was that mexican players were slide tackling USA players all over the pitch, and coming away with the ball.

So now, if Mexico can keep this up, we will have a true rivalry. Let’s see if they can do the same next time we meet.