The All Whites are set for their biggest test in more than two years tomorrow in Nashville.
Facing the might of Mexico, in front of a heavily partisan crowd, with a team that hasn't played together for months. Bienvenidos Chicos
Across Anthony Hudson's reign, the team has mainly faced second tier Asian countries (aside from South Korea), while the Oceania Nations Cup was a challenge due to a heavily depleted squad and the demanding schedule, but less so for the quality of opposition.
This is the real deal; it's probably the severest test for an All Whites squad since Japan in March 2014, and is coming at the best possible time.
Over the next nine months, New Zealand faces potentially tricky World Cup qualifiers against New Caledonia and Fiji, before clashing with some global heavyweights at next year's Confederations Cup in Russia.
There's not much more time for experimentation - now it's all about execution.
"[Mexico] are a good side," said All Whites striker Chris Wood.
"They have some great players and we know that we will have to be at the top of our game to do well but I know we will be.
"These are the games that we want and these are the games that we need if we are going to progress as a nation. If we don't get games like this, we won't progress."
Mexico have - surprisingly - become regular opponents in recent times, with tomorrow's match the fifth encounter in six years between the two teams. The first was a 2-0 loss in front of more than 90,000 in Pasadena in 2010, when Tommy Smith made his international debut and New Zealand held El Tri scoreless until the 54th minute.
The next encounter (Denver, 2011) was more emphatic, as Mexico killed the game in the first half with three goals.
The All Whites were routed 9-3 on aggregate in the intercontinental playoffs in November 2013, with only the heroics of goalkeeper Glen Moss preventing a possible double-figure scoreline at the Azteca Stadium.
New Zealand should field a much more competitive line-up tomorrow. The presence of captain Winston Reid is an immeasurable boost, while Andrew Durante and Themi Tzimopoulos bring experience to the backline. Henry Cameron and Marco Rojas will add some penetration to the midfield, though the loss of Ryan Thomas (injury) is a significant blow, as his speed and skill would have offered a vital attacking outlet.
Kosta Barbarouses brings pace to the flanks and Wood is in brilliant club form for Leeds United, with seven goals in 13 games for the Championship club.
"We have a great team with lot of youth and experience," said Wood. "It is the most talent we have had in a squad for a long time. I am excited to see what we can do."
It's not a full strength Mexican team - but that doesn't really matter. They are missing Europe-based regulars such as Javier Hernandez, Jesus Corona and Hector Herrera (rested) and have lost several other front-liners to injury, but have enough talent to assemble two or three strong sides.
"Friendlies count for nothing unless we win our qualifiers but we need to be competitive, strong, and have a good attitude," said Hudson.
"This will be a really good gauge for our side. What we want is to come out of the game and look back as players and staff [and be] proud of what we have done."
The match kicks off at 11.30am tomorrow (NZT).