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updated: 7/17/2011 10:30 PM

Dramatic Cup final was all that soccer can be

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  • United States players pose for a photo Sunday after losing the final match to Japan at the Women's World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany.

      United States players pose for a photo Sunday after losing the final match to Japan at the Women's World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany.
    Associated Press

 
 

The United States knows a miracle finish when it sees one, but this was unfamiliar territory.

The United States took a lead late in the second half of Sunday's Women's World Cup final, and Japan tied the game to send it to overtime.

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The United States scored again in overtime, but Japan tied the game with just minutes to spare to send the game to penalty kicks tied at 2-2.

Then the United States, the master of winning shootouts, missed its first three kicks, losing 3-1.

The game couldn't have been more dramatic. It was everything soccer can be, even if the result didn't go the Americans' way.

For the United States it was a great tournament, and the players should be proud of what they accomplished.

Here are three more things to remember after this World Cup:

1. The Americans need to keep improving the technical side of their game, starting at the lowest levels.

This World Cup showed once again that other countries are improving. For instance, if Brazil ever puts some resources behind its women's soccer program, it can be just as strong as the men's program.

The United States' women's team has been strong because there are more girls playing soccer here than anywhere else, and they reach the national team with more athletic ability and determination to win than others can match.

It's no longer enough.

Coaches and trainers at the lowest levels -- say, U-8 to U-13 -- need to be willing to forgo wins at those levels to develop players' skills for the older levels. Be willing to tell a 9-year-old not to blast the ball to the parking lot, even if it's right in front of her net. If she can dribble or pass out of trouble, she'll develop those skills and a whole mess of confidence.

Veterans like Christie Rampone, Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx deserve credit for reviving the United States' qualifying hopes and getting the team into the final, but the future is in highly skilled players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheney. The United States needs to produce more like them -- on the men's side too.

2. It will be hard for the United States to improve if WPS folds.

Just as MLS has helped the men's national team develop, WPS has helped the women's team -- even if some teams have folded and others, like the Red Stars, are playing in lower leagues, hoping to find enough investors to allow them to return to WPS.

MLS has showed it's here to stay, and eventually all its teams will be profitable.

WPS is a long way from that. If it fails, it will be a setback for the women's national team.

3. As great a tournament as this was, don't look for a soccer bounce.

Even if Abby Wambach appears on "The Colbert Report," soccer is not going to maintain this level of popularity.

The game will continue to grow and mature, slowly but surely. And that will have to be good enough, though it might not be enough to keep WPS afloat.

There will still be plenty of soccer haters out there. Ignore them. If they don't want to watch soccer, fine. Let them be.

We'll keep soccer for ourselves and be ready to welcome anyone who wants to jump aboard the bandwagon.

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