CARSON, Calif. -- With third place in the World Cup secured, Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly did what they nearly always do: lead.
Key components in the United States' 3-1 victory over Canada on Saturday, Hamm and Lilly led their teammates to each sideline, clapping their hands above their heads, waving, throwing kisses, even pounding their hearts.
It was not the prize they set out for, but it was still worth a celebration.
"We never gave up, we played the entire time and it is a credit to our leadership and our team," said Hamm, who set up the winning goal by Shannon Boxx with a corner kick. "To anyone who thought we would not be at our best, this was a good answer."
After losing to Germany in the semifinals, the Americans vowed they would take the third-place game very seriously. Before 25,253 at the Home Depot Center - where Sweden plays Germany for the title Sunday - the United States dominated the second half against one of soccer's rising nations.
And the U.S. women left the World Cup with their heads held high.
"Obviously this is not where we wanted to be," said Lilly, who scored the first goal. "But this is where our destiny ended. We started strong and we ended strong. We wanted to end this World Cup with a win."
They did because they never backed down against the young, physical Canadians.
Hamm's perfect twisting corner kick was headed home by Boxx in the 52nd minute. It was the 1,000th goal for the U.S. women.
Then Hamm, soccer's all-time leading goal-scorer who has become a terrific playmaker, made a quick restart in the 80th. Her feed eventually found its way to Tiffeny Milbrett in the penalty area and she scored to improve the U.S. record against Canada to 26-3-3.
"It was very important to finish this way, whether it was for first, second or third," said Milbrett, who came on in the 43rd minute after Cindy Parlow suffered a concussion. "If there is a game we have to win in a tournament, we want to win."
It's the second time the United States has finished third in the World Cup, also doing it in 1995. The Americans won the crown in 1991 and four years ago.
While this victory wasn't nearly as memorable as the 1999 penalty-kick shootout over China for the championship at a sold-out Rose Bowl, it was a strong performance. And the Americans believe it can be a catalyst for future events: After finishing third in 1995, they went on to win the 1996 Olympics and the '99 World Cup.
"It's something to build on for the future," Boxx said. "We're looking forward to doing that."
A wide-open first half featured numerous scoring opportunities on both sides. In the 31st minute, 16-year-old Canadian midfielder Kara Lang missed a sliding shot and crashed into goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who also hit the goal post after the ball banged off the post. Scurry was down for four minutes, flexing her right leg, but stayed in.
Earlier, Scurry had to soar to barely tip one of Lang's shots over the net in the 19th minute, signaling how threatening the teenager would be.
Scurry had no chance on Christine Sinclair's low 12-yard shot after a brilliant pass from Christine Latham in the 38th minute. It was Sinclair's third goal of the tournament and tied it 1-1.
Lilly, who scored the first U.S. goal of the World Cup against Sweden, had connected with the 93rd of her international career - she's played in 261 games, more than anyone in soccer. From just outside the penalty area in the 22nd minute, her left-footed blast found the right corner of the net after the ball came loose in a scramble.
Milbrett hit the post in the 73rd, then saw goalie Taryn Swiatek make a hand save on the rebound, and Sinclair put a header off the crossbar two minutes later.
But Milbrett, who lost her starting place on the national team to Abby Wambach, finished it with her first goal of the tournament. Wambach had a handful of good chances, but couldn't convert.
Canada coach Even Pellerud caused a stir after the game by saying the Americans were an aging team and that Canada should surpass them soon.
"I still think the USA will be up there," said the man who coached Norway to the 1995 title. "But they are a little bit on the way down. They're not as organized as they used to be. They give away more space to their opponents. They're not as fit as they used to be."
Hamm didn't buy that, believing the Americans responded superbly to the challenge.
"The atmosphere was tremendous," Hamm said. "We played well and really pounded the ball around."