Five Things to Know: MNT vs. New Zealand

The U.S. Men’s National Team takes on New Zealand on Tuesday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, UniMas) in its last match before kicking off the final round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying next month against Mexico and Costa Rica.

Here are five things to know about Tuesday’s friendly against New Zealand.

About New Zealand
New Zealand is a collection of islands in the south Pacific Ocean, located nearest to Australia and Antarctica.  Having gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, the population of 4.7 million people are commonly known around the world as “Kiwis”. 

The nation’s mountainous geography served as the backdrop for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, with director Peter Jackson hailing from the capital, Wellington.

From a sporting perspective, New Zealand is best known for its rugby team. Nicknamed the All-Blacks for the iconic uniforms they wear, the team has won three Rugby World Cups, including the last two in 2011 and 2015. 

While not as popular as rugby in the island nation, soccer is commonly followed, with the national team’s nickname contrasting as the All-Whites.

History: USA vs. New Zealand
Tuesday’s match marks just the third meeting between the United States and New Zealand, with the MNT winning both previous games by a 2-1 score line. 

The two nations first met in the opening game of the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, as Brian McBride and Jovan Kirovski scored on both sides of halftime to give the U.S. three points in Guadalajara, Mexico. More recently, the two sides faced off in a warm-up friendly for the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup in nearby Richmond, Va., with Kirovski and Chris Klein scoring in the 2-1 win.

Scene Set: The All-Whites
New Zealand has twice qualified for the FIFA World Cup, making their inaugural appearance at the 1982 tournament in Spain. More memorably, the All-Whites qualified for the 2010 competition in South Africa where they drew all three of their group games and narrowly missed out on advancing from the group, but did take consolation in finishing ahead of four-time World Champions Italy. 

Giants in the Oceanic Football Confederation, New Zealand won their fifth OFC Nations Cup (equivalent to the Gold Cup in CONCACAF) in June, defeating hosts Papua New Guinea 4-2 on penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw in the final.

Just as the MNT is utilizing this international window to prepare for the opening of “the Hex”, New Zealand is doing the same. The All-Whites played well, but eventually fell 2-1 to Mexico in the first game of the window Saturday night in Nashville and will use Tuesday’s match at RFK Stadium as the final test before opening the third round of OFC qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which also begins next month. Should they advance from three-team group which features Fiji and New Caledonia, New Zealand will move on to the OFC’s final playoff with the winner of Group B next August and September. The winner from that two-leg affair will face off with the fifth-place team from CONMEBOL in one of two intercontinental playoffs next November for the right to go to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

Familiar Faces
New Zealand has long seen players come to the U.S. to attend college and eventually play in MLS. Most notably, former captain Ryan Nelsen and midfielders Simon Eliot and Duncan Oughton all had long careers in the American top-flight. 

A new generation of Kiwi footballers comes to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night, but some still have ties to the U.S. Goalkeeper Jake Gleeson has had a revelatory season for defending MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers, filling in admirably for starter Adam Kwarasey early in the season before becoming the full-fledged No. 1 goalkeeper following the Ghana international’s transfer to Norwegian club Rosenborg in July.

New Zealand also features a host of defenders with ties to the North American soccer scene: Kip Colvey of San Jose Earthquakes, Deklan Wynne of Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and Jake Brotherton, who plays for the University of Wisconsin. 

Most notably, New Zealand is captained by West Ham United center back Winston Reid and also features Leeds United forward Chris Wood.

RFK Stadium
The MNT returns to very familiar territory in Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium Tuesday night. Originally the home for Major League Baseball’s Washington Senators and the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the venue has become a hallowed ground for soccer in the United States, playing host to D.C. United of MLS since 1996 and the U.S. Men’s National Team for a number of years. 

Since first drawing 1-1 with China back in 1977, the MNT has gone 15-3-5 all-time at RFK Stadium and currently rides a nine match unbeaten streak (8-0-1) at the venue into Tuesday’s contest against New Zealand.

Overall, the 23-matches played at the now iconic soccer venue are the most the U.S. Men have played at any stadium all-time.