FIFA World Cup 2010 qualifiers
Mexico v USA Azteca Stadium, Mexico City
The real revelation of international soccer this year has to be the USA, who shocked everyone by downing the world's top-ranked nation Spain 2-0 at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, before leading Brazil by the same score in the final, eventually losing 3-2.
After an impressive quarter-final finish in the 2002 World Cup and a disappointing first round exit in 2006, the States have announced they are gunning once more for football's top table.
Soccerphile spoke to West Ham & USA defender Jonathan Spector on the eve of his team's World Cup qualifier with Mexico at the Azteca about the American surge in South Africa.
"It is certainly a step in the right direction to get to the final of a major competition," Spector told Soccerphile, "but it is not enough to say we did a great job because we need to be looking to actually win once we get there."
Spector shone at right-back for the US in South Africa, providing the killer pass for Clint Dempsey's opening goal in the final, but was burned by a marauding Kaka for Brazil's equaliser.
"Tactically we had a good gameplan," Spector explained, "and we executed it really well. We created the chances mostly on counter-attacks and we finished them well in the final third which was the main thing which had been missing. We are proud of what we accomplished there and extremely disappointed at the same time to give up the two-goal lead we had going into half time."
Many of the Americans were in tears at the end, but the team's heroic feats in the knock-out stages, especially after they had squeezed through the group stage on goals scored, did not go unnoticed.
"It is great that there is a lot of publicity given to the US team," Spector said, "both in the US, which is somewhat unusual still unfortunately, as well as internationally. I think the US gained a lot of popularity and interest. I think we know we have bigger expectations on our shoulders and now it is up to us to keep them there."
The first test of this world-challenging US team post Confederations Cup comes this evening in surroundings which could not be more inhospitable - a World Cup qualifier against arch-rivals Mexico in Mexico City's 100,000-capacity Azteca Stadium.
The States, second in the CONCACAF qualifiers, have less to prove than El Tri, who lie fourth at the halfway stage. Only the top three go to South Africa automatically and the fourth finisher will play off against South America's fifth-best team for the final spot.
"We know it is going to be a difficult," confirmed Spector. "Obviously Mexico is a good team. They’ve got a lot of talented players and you have the difficulties of travelling, the altitude and the fans, but it is like that many times when we go away and we just have to concentrate on our preparation and our own performance and be confident."
While the US have overtaken their southern neighbour in recent seasons, a 2-0 victory at the 2002 World Cup in Korea confirming the new CONCACAF order, they have still never won at the Azteca and have one draw and 22 losses to show for their efforts in that cauldron. Mexico's unblemished home record versus the United States should make them close favourites, coupled with the psychological boon they got from thrashing the US' second string 5-0 in the Gold Cup final in July.
Costa Rica lead the group by two points from the US, with Honduras in third a point ahead of the Mexicans.
Mexico v USA kicks off at 2100 GMT.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile