Former All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen says New Zealand reached a "different level" in their 2-1 loss to Mexico on Sunday.
Nelsen, who joined the team at training in Washington on Tuesday, was highly impressed by the All Whites' performance against El Tri in Nashville.
Nelsen knows his stuff - he was at the forefront of the successful 2010 World Cup campaign and spent much of his career playing in New Zealand teams that were underdogs - and liked what he has saw last weekend.
"I was very impressed," said Nelsen. "They pressured the Mexicans well, high up the field and they turned the ball over a lot. I've watched [Mexico] a lot and they don't normally do that because they are technically very good players. The All Whites were very unlucky to lose the game - they probably deserved more out of [it]."
Nelsen hasn't been directly involved with the All Whites since his retirement in early 2013, but sees signs of progress under coach Anthony Hudson.
"Seeing from afar is different but everybody you talk to on the inside has talked about how positive it is, and what a great job he is doing," said Nelsen. "From afar I thought that last game against Mexico was a different level to what I have seen [from] New Zealand teams and it is really positive."
The 38-year-old Nelsen has been based in the American capital since August 2014, after being sacked as manager of Toronto FC. Nelsen was at the MLS franchise for around 18 months, but has adapted well to life on the other side of the border.
"I love it here," said Nelsen. "I like the American attitude and the lifestyle. Besides the candidates for presidency, besides those two everything is great."
He also remains a keen football observer, and will be in the stadium for Wednesday's match between the All Whites and Jurgen Klinsmann's side.
"[The USA] have brought in quite a few fresh faces, guys that have been on the [fringes] of the team, so they'll be motivated to impress their coach," said Nelsen. "It will be a tough game but if the [All Whites] can replicate what they did against Mexico then they have more of a chance of winning the game."
Captain Winston Reid echoed those sentiments, saying the team needs to maintain the standards set in Tennessee against the world No22 ranked team.
"We put in a good performance the other night and we need to make sure do something similar - if not better - for tomorrow's night game," said Reid. "The main thing is we had a game plan and we stuck to it. Even though we didn't quite get the result we wanted there were more positives from the games than negatives. That was the important thing; that we can see we are improving as a group."
It won't be easy on Wednesday. The key challenge will be maintaining the high pressing, high energy style three days after the exertions in Nashville. The USA will be well organised, fit and fast, and have added flair to their structure since the turn of the decade.
Their physical presence will also negate any advantage New Zealand enjoyed from set pieces against Mexico. Expect Hudson to tweak his line up, though he can't afford to take the field in Washington without too many frontline players.
The match kicks off at 1pm (NZT) on Wednesday.