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Sundhage wants the U.S. to play a possession-oriented style similar to the one Japan and France worked to near perfection in Germany, saying the traditional American gameplan of grinding opponents down on defense and sending long balls up to the forwards is too predictable. The offense should develop through the midfield, not start up front. By working from flank to center and back out with series of multiple passes, the Americans can probe the defense for weaknesses and create more opportunities _ including chances for players who wouldn’t normally score.

The style also helps on defense. Opponents can’t score when the Americans are keeping the ball for large chunks of the game.

“I think of it as a nice hybrid of the way the U.S. national team used to play and the way that the game is evolving into much like the men’s game, a possession, Barcelona-esque style,” Wambach said. “It hasn’t been without troubles. It’s sometimes gotten the best of us because we have some players, like myself, who are old school and like to get the ball in a more physical, direct style. And when things aren’t going well, I like to go back to what I know.”

When it works, though, it is a sight to behold. The Americans looked like a cat toying with a mouse for much of the first half of the final, reeling defenders in only to make the ball disappear with a deft flick or smooth pass to a teammate. Japan’s confusion and frustration gave the Americans wide-open spaces in front of the goal, and they easily could have been up 4-0 at halftime.

But they weren’t, done in by an inability to finish that’s plagued them all year long. If the Americans had converted only a handful of the chances they squandered in the tournament, that Brazil thriller wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic and they, not the Japanese, would have been celebrating late into the night Sunday.

“I don’t blame anybody,” Wambach said. “We had so many chances.”

And they will again, starting in London.