Tab Ramos's young Americans are off to a solid start in the 2015 U-20 World Cup: three points from their opening game puts them top of Group A. Myanmar was a more challenging opponent than most (but not all - credit Josh Deaver over at American Soccer Now for actually watching some tape before reaching an opinion) observers were expecting, but the US U-20 team did well to focus on the game it was in rather than the lamenting the absence of the blowout many apparently presumed to be inevitable.
The next match poses a similar challenge: on paper, New Zealand doesn't look all that impressive. Almost half the players are drawn from Wanderers SC, a team that finished seventh out of nine in New Zealand's ASB Premiership this season. The most prominent player in the squad is arguably Bill Tuiloma, who was scooped up by French heavyweight Olympique Marseille in 2013 and got his first taste of first-team football for his club this season. There are a couple of players - Cory Brown (Xavier) and Stuart Holthusen (Akron) attached to US colleges - and three contracted to pro clubs in Europe. But Nikola Tzanev (Brentford), Jesse Edge (Vicenza Calcio), and Monty Patterson (Ipswich Town) have not yet broken through at senior level.
Still, it is the host nation. That Wanderers SC team was set up specifically to keep the country's U-20 eligible players together and occupied with regular, club-level soccer. And while preparations may not look very encouraging, the New Zealand U-20s held Ukraine to a 0-0 draw in their opening match of this tournament.
They will want to build on that result against the US.
New Zealand will not be the toughest opponent the US faces in this tournament. But it should be among the most motivated.
The Americans have little to gain from this match but points. They will be expected to win easily, given the apparent disparity between the squads on paper. They will be regarded as having "underperformed" if they record anything less than a comfortable, clean-sheet win.
But the US performance against Myanmar was encouraging, insofar as it suggested the team understands it is in a tournament, has no right to breeze by any opponent on reputation, and is capable of adjusting to the opposition on the field rather than described in the match previews.