It was, by any estimation, an absolute classic.

Today's Women's World Cup final was a wonderful showcase for the game of soccer; a back-and-forth game on national television that won't be trumped for many, many years.

It was also one of the most painful, disappointing days in U.S. soccer history.

It was the 2010 men's game against Ghana, but worse. Then, the U.S. was largely given a 50-50 chance. This time, few gave the Japanese much of a chance against the Americans' seeming team of destiny. But they did. Somehow, someway, they did.

The panic started when the U.S. whiffed on chance after chance in the first half, went away when Alex Morgan scored in the 69th minute, came back when Japan equalized, was vanquished when Abby Wambach potted a sure game-winner in the 104th ... and took over on Homare Sawa's 117th-minute score.

By the time PKs came around, the game was finished. Japan had the body language the U.S. was sporting against Brazil last week -- and the Americans looked crushed. Spent.

It's hard to flat-out rip the U.S. team. Yes, they choked in the final. By all accounts, though, they should have gone out in the quarterfinals, and again in the semis. Only grit and teamwork got them this far. And they're surely feeling the loss far more than their fanbase -- which, by the way, is a lot bigger than it was eight days ago.

"I am a little heart broken," forward Alex Morgan tweeted. "But we left it all on the field, and I am proud of this team."

You know what, Alex? The rest of the country is, too. As awful as the ending was, the Women's World Cup was a breath of fresh air in today's sports world. The national team was likable, funny and friendly -- and seemed even moreso compared to the participants in the NBA and NFL's millionaire vs. billionaire battle royales.

The Americans didn't end the tournament with the legacy they wanted -- the title, the separation from the shadow of 1999. In the end, they did something even more important. Today's disappointment will surely fade, just as soccer -- and especially women's soccer -- will fade from the front pages once more. But a few more fans will have been made. And for a few days, we got to forget about the rest of the sports world and watch a wonderful story unfold.

The story ended in heartbreak. But what a story it was.