With their major challengers already through on Saturday, the Americans had a 5 a.m. wake-up call for their morning session. They were fully focused from the opening on the uneven bars through to the concluding vault and finished with 233.643 points, behind Russia's 234.521 and China's 233.778.
"The distance is not very big and we are here to fight for that," U.S coach Martha Karolyi said.
Wednesday's final also will be the first face-off between Russian newcomer Aliya Mustafina and U.S. champion Rebecca Bross, the favorites for the individual all-around title two days later.
In qualifying, Mustafina scored 60.666 for a sizable margin compared to Bross' 59.081. Alexandra Raisman of the United States was in provisional third place. Qualifying ended late Sunday.
One day after 16-year-old Mustafina gave an impressive performance of power and grace, Bross came to the Ahoy Arena with a different agenda -- to protect a right shin injury. Bross chose a contained program that limited her most daring moves.
"You have to go for it, but you cannot go too hard," Bross said of her approach to protecting her leg for Wednesday's team final. Her solid performance boosted her confidence, though.
"There are a few things here and there -- everywhere that I can clean up -- but I'm ready for the next step," she said.
Alicia Sacramone, coming back after two years away from the sport, took a major step forward, returning to world gymnastics with a consistent beam routine capped with fist pumps and a shout after her dismount.
"It was nice to go out there and hit my first routine back. Beam is always a stressful event," the 22-year-old American said. With that over, the seven-time world medalist got to her favorite apparatus, the vault.
Her two attempts proved she was back at her best since the Beijing Olympics two years ago and she trailed only Mustafina by a tiny 15.283-15.266 margin, promising a great showdown for Saturday's apparatus final.