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U.S. women's soccer team hopes to kick up interest in sport at home

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.S. soccer team returns home
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Players hope their appearance in the final round brings more attention to soccer
  • "We did something pretty special," says one team member
  • Penalty kicks helped Japan win Sunday in the World Cup final 5-3

(CNN) -- Despite their second-place status in the 2011 FIFA World Cup Final, the women of the U.S. soccer team hope their success in the tournament -- especially their appearance in the final game before a global audience -- encourages more Americans to get excited about the women's sport.

"I think we did something pretty special for women's soccer here in America," said Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder from California. "Hopefully this has kind of opened people's eyes a little bit to how beautiful the women's game can be."

Playing in a sport that has long labored in the shadow of the men's game, and representing a country where soccer has long fought for attention against football, baseball, basketball and other major-league sports, made the thousands of roaring fans in the final game in Frankfurt, Germany, all the more stimulating for the team.

"When you have 50,000 fans you can't hear anything," said Alex Morgan, a forward. "It definitely raises energy."

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The enthusiasm of fans followed the team back to the United States. The women arrived at the W Hotel in New York's Times Square Monday evening to a supportive crowd.

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"It's great to come back to all our support," said team captain and defender Christie Rampone. "We really felt that ... we couldn't be prouder."

The support from the fans and the excitement that women's soccer might get more recognition in the United States, however, didn't take away the sting of the 5-3 loss.

"We got so many e-mails, so many texts," said Shannon Boxx, a midfielder. "It makes me really proud to be an American ... We're really disappointed we couldn't bring everything home for everyone."

Millions of Americans tuned in on Sunday to watch Japan and the United States duke it out on the field -- and they got a show.

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The U.S. women's team managed to hold strong for most of the game, but the score was tied 2-2 by Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa with just a few minutes left in extra time, which prompted a round of penalty kicks.

Japan hit three of its penalty kicks, the U.S. made only one.

But the U.S. women didn't fault Japan for the championship win.

"I really took my hat off to Japan," said goalkeeper Hope Solo. "I was OK with their storybook ending, knowing that they were fighting for so much more than the game." Japan was considered by many to be the sentimental favorite going into the game, in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.

With the World Cup behind them, the loss still hurts, but the women say they are looking toward future endeavors.

"I do know that it hurts more a day later," said Solo. "We have to pick up the pieces ... this is a team that hopefully will win us a gold medal."

The team will begin training for the 2012 London Summer Olympics in January.