The Football Ferns have marked a milestone match for midfielders Betsy Hassett and Annalie Longo with a fighting 3-1 loss to the United States.
Battling altitude, a short buildup and coming to grip with a new-look lineup, New Zealand put up a credible showing against the world champions in Denver.
The first of two internationals was dominated by the world's top-ranked side but the 19th-ranked visitors had their moments and raised eyebrows when they pulled a goal back in the 74th minute to close to 2-1.
However, Alex Morgan responded with the the US's third soon afterwards with a left-footed strike from a tight angle.
Close friends Hassett and Longo became the seventh and eighth players to line up in 100 senior internationals for the Football Ferns.
They were industrious against world class opponents who created a wealth of chances but were repeatedly denied by some stubborn defending.
New Zealand began creating chances as the second half wore on and broke through when Hannah Wilkinson headed home a looping cross from Ali Riley.
It was Wilkinson's 25th goal from 82 internationals and her fourth against the US.
The home side's first two goals went to Julie Ertz in the space of eight minutes midway through the first half.
She pounced at close range when team-mate Lindsey Horan won a key header and slammed home the second from the top of the penalty box after Megan Rapinoe hit the post.
New Zealand coach Tony Readings says his team can take heart from their first match in more than six months.
"Obviously you never want to lose football matches but if you do, you want to make sure you lose them with a performance you can be proud of," he said.
"I'm proud of the way the players played today. Playing against the world's best team away from home, with minimal preparation, you can't ask for much more than that."
Readings believes his team started to click as the match wore on, which provides encouragement ahead of the second game in Cincinnati on Wednesday (NZT).
"They just seemed to grow as the game wore on," he said.
"It was probably to be expected. We're trying to play a new system, to play a different way.
"While we played well, we know there's several things we can do better."