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Points to ponder after U.S. loss

CARSON, Calif. -- This is where the U.S. Women's National Team was hoping to defend its World Cup crown and win back-to-back titles. Right here, at the sparkling new Home Depot Center, which was supposed to be officially christened as a major world soccer venue when Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the rest of the American players hoisted the championship trophy amid confetti and a packed house of admirers.

With the U.S. losing 3-0 to Germany on Sunday, that dream will not be realized. Instead, April Heinrichs will send her heartbroken squad out onto the pristine field of the HDC to play against Canada. There won't be any trophies handed out to the winner, or confetti, or shirts being pulled off in triumph. Officially, third-place in this tournament is up for grabs. But unofficially, it'll be a game that has more to do about pride than anything.

So why aren't the Americans taking on Sweden -- a team they beat 3-1 in their World Cup opener back on Sept. 21 -- on Sunday instead of Germany? Good question.

One reason is that the Germans played the game of their lives and deserved to feel the thrill of victory. But there are others, as well, including the ones below that relate specifically to the U.S. side.

  • Predictability. Pass down the flank. Looping serve into the box. Save by German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg.

    That summed up most of the U.S. attacks.

    Meanwhile, Germany utilized counterattacks and a bevy of deft passes to create chances. During the second half, Birgit Prinz played a routine ball into her teammate, who had her back to the goal. With just a flick to her left, and the soccer savvy of Prinz to elude her marker and run to space off of the one-two pass, a clear opportunity was opened up for Germany.

    That sort of passing didn't exist in the game the Americans played. Though mightily effective against weaker opponents, and even at times in the semifinal, the direct style of play used by the U.S. didn't create as many goals as it should have. It's clear to see when you look at how the Americans scored in this tournament -- 10 of the team's 12 goals came as a result of free kicks, corner kicks and penalty kicks.

    Wagner's insertion into the match helped open some avenues and gave the U.S. an element of creativity. As the team moves forward, more players like Wagner have to be developed. At all positions, too.

  • Inexperience. Overall, Shannon Boxx played a great tournament and provided the U.S. with a powerful ball-winner and strong defender in the middle of the field despite the fact that she had earned only two caps coming into the World Cup. But against Germany, when the game was played mostly on the ground and experience played a larger role, she failed to provide a necessary link from the defense to the offense. Her passing was shaky, as well, which stalled a few buildups for the U.S., and led to a handful of counterattacks.

    Perhaps Foudy should have slipped over to defensive midfielder in the second half, which would have also opened the door for Heinrichs to insert another attacker on the right flank, as Foudy wasn't creating a lot of offense from that post.

    Kylie Bivens, who had 7 caps entering the World Cup, was also off her game against Germany playing as a right back. When matched up against powerful players like Abby Wambach or Danielle Fotopoulos in the WUSA, Bivens was excellent at providing the necessary muscle and aggressiveness despite her diminutive size. Against more skillful players like Prinz and Meinert, she had trouble, which resulted in Germany's decision to attack down that side whenever possible through Prinz.

    Meanwhile, Christie Pearce was on the bench with over 100 international games under her belt, which includes two World Cups and one Olympics.

  • No more attackers? The odd part about Heinrichs' decision not to use her third substitute was that not a soul was seen warming up after both Wagner and Milbrett entered the match in the 52nd and 70th minute, respectively.

    Starting with former U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco's urging from his analyst seat in the press box, pundits have questioned whether Shannon MacMillan should have entered the match for the last 15 or 20 minutes. It's understandable that Heinrichs didn't want to take out either Hamm or Wambach, who had come through for the U.S. throughout the tournament. But perhaps she could have come on for Boxx, and played either as a right midfielder or as another front-runner.

    MacMillan had ACL surgery last May and was probably not as fit or as pain-free as the coaching staff said during the two weeks leading up to this match, yet she sure made an impact against North Korea the week before with her perfect chip to Cat Reddick to set up the last U.S. goal. Her 23 goals over the last two years are more than any U.S. player. It's left to wonder whether she could have scored the equalizer in the second half.

    If MacMillan wasn't feeling up to it, why not take out Kate Sobrero in place of Danielle Slaton to add a more attacking dimension out of the back?

    Also, would another available attacker on the bench -- Lindsay Tarpley, anyone? -- been more beneficial to the squad than going with seven defenders on the 20-player roster?

    That's another question that will forever be in some people's minds when analyzing this match.

    Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: shaketiller10@yahoo.com.