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Despite World Cup loss, plenty of optimism for U.S. women

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 11:30 a.m. MDT

United States' Alex Morgan, center, celebrate with United States' Abby Wambach and United States' Megan Rapinoe, left, scoring the opening goal during the final match between Japan and the United States at the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, July 17, 2011.

Michael Probst, Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany — Once the Americans get over the disappointment of coming up just short at the Women's World Cup, they'll find plenty of reasons for optimism.

The U.S. team pulled together amid a series of challenges that, just a few years ago, would have broken it apart. And while the illustrious careers of captain Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and maybe Abby Wambach are nearing their end, Lauren Cheney, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe proved in Germany they are more than able successors.

There's also another major title to be won at next summer's London Olympics, and qualifying starts in just a few months.

"It's just unfortunate, just a bummer," Carli Lloyd said after the Americans were stunned by Japan in a riveting final Sunday night, losing 3-1 in penalty kicks after twice blowing leads in a 2-2 tie. "But there's another World Cup in four years."

For some. The majority of the team will remain intact through London, but Rampone (36) and Boxx (34) are likely to call it quits after that. Wambach said it's too early to say what she'll do, but she is 31, and her body is showing the wear and tear from the fearless playing style that has earned her third place on the all-time World Cup scoring list with 13 goals.

Wambach passed Michelle Akers (12) for top U.S. honors with her header in the 104th minute Sunday, her fourth goal of the tournament.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Wambach said when asked about her future. "I just want to spend some time with my teammates. This has been an emotional roller coaster ... and the Olympics are right around the corner. We'll move on."

Part of what has always made the U.S. so strong is the smooth transition from one generation to another, and the U.S. might have its most promise since the days of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain.

Solo, winner of the Golden Glove as the tournament's top goalkeeper, is in the prime of her career at 29. Morgan and Cheney, both just 22, each finished the tournament with two goals. Cheney also had three assists while Morgan had one. Rapinoe displayed the accuracy and touch on the flanks so critical in coach Pia Sundhage's desire for a possession-based offense, and has the energy and spunk to shoulder the burden of being the face of the team behind Wambach.

No team found a way to contain speedy Heather O'Reilly, who makes a nice complement to Rapinoe on the opposite side of the field. Lloyd seemed to gain confidence in directing the offense as the tournament wore on, having one of her best games against Japan.

That's not to say there aren't issues.

The Americans achieved cult status with their grit and resilience in Germany, coming back to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals in a thrilling match, and then grinding down France. But as entertaining as they may be, the Americans have been making things harder on themselves than they need to be for almost a year now.

They were upset by Mexico in regional qualifying, forced to beat Italy in a playoff to get the very last spot in Germany. They dropped their first game of the season, to Sweden, then lost to England for the first time in 22 years — so long ago Morgan hadn't even been born yet. After winning their first two games in Germany handily, they lost to Sweden, the first U.S. loss ever in World Cup group play.

"In the past, we'd always won everything," Rampone said. "Those losses made our team what it is today. We need each other and you feel that, from the locker room to the time we step on the field."

But the Americans need more than a can-do attitude to keep pace in a game that is improving and evolving.

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