Size doesn't matter. Technique does.
Population doesn't matter. Concentration does.
For long periods of Friday's World Cup group match against Slovenia, the U.S Friday suffered the kind of lesson in some of world football's difficult subtleties from which it takes a while to recover.
The U.S. doesn't have a while.
Yet, in a rousing finish, the U.S avoided defeat, thanks to a very well taken goal by the coach's son, Michael Bradley that made the score 2-2.
With just 8 minutes left, Bradley ran onto a headed knockdown and poked the ball high into the Slovenian net. It was an unusual moment of control in a very fractured performance.
In the first half, the U.S was the graduate. Slovenia was Mrs. Robinson.
Slovenia might be a lot smaller than California. It might be barely the size of Houston. But it gave the U.S. some harsh lessons in the second round of World Cup group play.
For most of the first half, the country of a mere 2 million made the U.S look as if it hadn't started shaving.
Slovenia attacked with poise and defended with resolution, a resolution that might have been strengthened by events in the very first minute.
The U.S.' Clint Dempsey went up to challenge Slovenia's Ljubijankic for an aerial ball.
With both elbows dangerously high, one smacked into Ljubijankic's cheek.
Dempsey, at the very least, deserved a yellow card.
Yet his sharp nudge seemed to rouse the Slovenians into an unusual spurt of attacking.
Within 15 minutes, Valter Birsa moved confidently into U.S territory.
The U.S. defense gave Birsa time to consider Slovenia's place in world politics, the consequences of Perez Hilton's awful actions toward Miley Cyrus and whether Miroslav Klose of Germany deserved to be sent off against Serbia in Friday's early game.
Oh, and he had plenty of time to decide which side of Tim Howard he was going to place his left-foot shot.
It was inexplicable defending. Inexplicably naive.
Perhaps the U.S. back line was so convinced by Slovenia's reputation as a negative team that no one thought Birsa would be rude enough to shoot.
But the goal heralded a pattern to the game in which Slovenia was the controlling master and the U.S. was the frantic high school team, all effort and frenzy, but little creativity and control.
With three minutes left in the first half, Slovenia doubled its dominance.
Onyewu played Ljubijankic onside. The Slovenian ran forward with every clarity as to what he would do.
He slid the ball low to Howard's left. He did it calmly. He knew exactly what he was doing.
The Slovenians again performed an engaging goal celebration, dancing in a circle, waving their hands in the air, while the Americans, who had previously enjoyed a good attacking spell with Torres going close, wondered what had hit them.
The cliche is that this second goal was a sucker punch. But in order to execute one of those, you need a compliant sucker. The U.S obliged.
However, with just a couple of minutes gone in the second half, the U.S. found its own sucker. Donovan broke down the right.
Advancing on the Slovenian goalkeeper, Handanovic, Donovan unleashed a venomous head-high shot.
Handanovic, supposedly one of the better goalkeepers in the world, made like a 7-year-old girl whose big brothers forced her to stand in goal while they took pot shots.
The Slovenian goalkeeper literally cowered out of the way rather than have his pretty features threatened.
When the Balkan wars broke out in the early 1990s, Slovenia only participated for 10 days.
If you talk to people in neighboring Croatia, they'll tell you that the Slovenians are very wily. Especially when it comes to money.
However, as the game wore on, the Slovenians tended to resort to nefarious schemes in order to slow the American frenzy.
Though Altidore had a good shot saved, all too often the Slovenian defenders found it easy to anticipate American movement.
And, in the rare moments they were surprised, they simply tugged a shirt or dug in an elbow.
Yellow cards began to flow so smoothly that it was as if the referee from Mali might save himself some effort by merely pointing to his bright yellow shirt.
Then Bradley's joyous goal, which inspired tears from Americans fans.
Three minutes later, second half substitute Maurice Edu scored again.
Running on to a free kick from the right-hand side, he volleyed the ball high into the net and turned away in triumph.
There was only one problem.
The referee from Mali, Koman Coulibaly, blew his whistle for no reason that a reasonable person could muster.
Edu was definitely not offside. Indeed, Bradley was clearly being held and a more aware official might have signaled for a penalty in favor of the U.S.
It was a terrible decision. But so was the one that led to the free-kick in the first place, as Jozy Altidore blatantly dived to gain an advantage.
After the game, U.S coach Bob Bradley was desperate not to criticize the referee with his mouth. But his eyes had sharp metal spikes emerging from them.
Yes, the U.S was hard done by. But for too long it was hard done by its own lack of control, guile and penetration.
Now it must look to the other games and hope results fall its way.
Sometimes, large countries are given harsh lessons by small ones. This was one of those nights.