Wednesday night, the first true test of the new-look U.S. men's soccer team will come against a Brazilian team that, though inexperienced, remembers what the U.S. squad did to it a year and a half ago in California.
Then, behind a career performance from goalkeeper Kasey Keller, the U.S. team surprised the soccer world with a 1-0 upset of Brazil at the Gold Cup. Afterward, Brazilian star Romario said, "It was an honor to be on the same field" with Keller. Now, things are different, including the stakes: a large step toward a berth in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.
"No one's fooling themselves here," defender Robin Fraser said. "We're playing against the best in the world."
This may not be the best Brazilian team -- missing are Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Cafu, among others -- but it is one still packed with talent. Emerging star Ronaldinho captured the hearts of the Mexican public in the opening match against Germany with a dazzling display that included two assists and one goal, and strikers Alex and Wanderly have shown that they can finish.
But the Brazilian team looked lazy against the Germans in the first half and chose to play kick-about instead of running the obviously tired European champions into the ground. It wasn't until the second half that the Brazil many soccer fans know emerged, and even then, two of the team's strikes came in garbage time.
That noted, the United States doesn't stack up well against this side. Although only one player -- midfielder Flavio Conceicao -- lined up against the Americans last February, this is clearly one of the better teams in the Cup.
"The Brazilians can put any of their 20 guys on the field and have a team," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said. "We can't -- right now it's difficult for us to put 11 on the field. We're huge underdogs. But, this is a challenge for us that will indicate where we are as a program."
In fact, one of the greatest challenges Arena has in front of him is who to field -- with key players such as Chris Armas, Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh out, he has a small deck from which to deal.
Also, exhaustion is a factor. Former captain John Harkes is likely to start again despite clearly suffering from the altitude and the heat. It's a factor that has bedeviled all the teams despite two weeks of high-altitude conditioning.
"You have no idea how it hits you -- there are a lot of guys here with heavy legs," Fraser said.
Out is midfielder Richie Williams, who took a shot to the instep in the U.S. opener; midfielder Ben Olsen is nursing a quadriceps strain but is probable for the second half. Likely to play: defenders Greg Berthalter and C.J. Brown, who trained at full speed for the first time Monday.
Of course, Keller will be in the nets -- and in the Brazilians' sights.
"You put whatever pressure there is on yourself," Keller said. "I'm not expecting to have the same performance [as in the last Brazil match] -- any time you face that sheer number and volume of shots, you expect that three or four are going to go in. That was just a special night. I'm not going to chase, because if you try to do that, you make things worse. I'm just going to save what I can."
That said, the Americans are guardedly optimistic.
"All the pressure is on them," defender Jeff Agoos said. "They're supposed to win. We've got nothing to lose."