ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (AP) - The U.S. national team heads to Mexico City this week to face Mexico in a World Cup qualifier with depth momentum and a rising rookie star in Eddie Johnson.
Whether that's enough to get the Americans their first win on Mexican soil - they're 0-21-1 all-time - remains to be seen.
"You don't play on a level playing field in Mexico U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Saturday after the Americans beat Honduras 1-0 in an exhibition match that served as the final tuneup for the qualifier next Sunday at Azteca Stadium.
"The biggest advantage the Mexico team has is its home field in Mexico City Arena said. "You're playing at 7000 feet. They have a great tradition at home because of the altitude. That's a big factor plus they have a very good team."
While the United States has never won south of the border it has had good success in recent years against Mexico. America has not allowed a goal to Mexico in the last four matches including a 2-0 win in the World Cup in 2002 in Korea and a 1-0 win in April 2004 in Dallas. The U.S. is 6-1-1 in the last eight games against Mexico.
Three days after the United States plays Mexico it meets Guatemala in another qualifier.
"I don't get all hung up on the Mexico-U.S. rivalry Arena said. "Anytime we play a game in World Cup qualifying in our region that opponent is our biggest opponent then. I don't place Mexico ahead of anybody else."
The win over Honduras gives the U.S. team a 3-0 record this year and a 16-game unbeaten streak since a 1-0 loss to the Netherlands on Feb. 18 2004. The Americans are undefeated in 31 games against teams in soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region since a 2-0 loss at Costa Rica on Sept. 5 2001.
The Americans who won 2-1 last month at Trinidad and Tobago in their final-round opener will spend this week training in Colorado Springs joined by 10 to 12 Europe-based players who have finished up play overseas. Those players are expected to dominate the starting lineup in Mexico City and include international stars such as midfielder Landon Donovan forward Brian McBride and goalie Kasey Keller.
"We will have a different team in Mexico Arena said. "Perhaps we'll have different teams for the games against Mexico and Guatemala. We'll have about 24 players in camp and from there we'll make decisions."
While Arena sidestepped a question on whether this will be the strongest team the Americans take to the smog and altitude of Mexico City midfielder Pablo Mastroeni likes the team's chances.
"It's going to be a great challenge in a great environment Mastroeni said. "This is what we live to do to play in front of 100000 people. With the decent camp we've had and the effort the guys have put out and the results we've gotten ... I think we're ready."
No one it seems more so than Johnson.
The 20-year-old first-year member of the national team scored late in the first half Saturday for his seventh goal in six games.
"It's all about putting yourself in good spots to score he said.
In January Major League Soccer turned down a $5 million offer for Johnson from Portugal's Benfica and Johnson who turns 21 on March 31 remains with Dallas.
Johnson will likely get plenty of playing time in Mexico City and a chance to learn more Arena said.
"He's got a big learning curve ahead Arena said.
Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman preserved the shutout of Honduras when he smothered a kick from Wilmer Velasquez from in front of the goal in the 88th minute.
The "friendly" match against Honduras gave the U.S. team a chance to play at a high altitude a significant part of their preparation for Mexico City's 7300-foot elevation. Albuquerque's elevation is approximately 5300 feet.
The game marked Arena's 100th game as coach of the national team and improved his record to 55-23-22.