Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

June 21, 2017 — Tony DiCicco, 1948-2017

As long as there has been a U.S. women’s national soccer team, there have been great players and teams which have won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. The women have blazed a trail for personal and team success that has impacted American and world culture far beyond what had ever been dreamed about when the States first created a select team for a game in Blaine, Minn. some 30 years ago.

While there have been gritty defenders, stellar goalkeepers, steady midfielders, and electric attackers, there has also been talent on the bench. Anson Dorrance won the inaugural Women’s World Championship with its ersatz 80-minute halves (it would only be recognized as the first World Cup years later. Greg Ryan had a remarkable run of success in the 2000s, losing only a single game in regulation over his 55-game tenure, but it was that one game — a 4-0 defeat by Brazil at China 2007 — that has defined his legacy.

Pia Sundhage, the first foreign-born coach and first woman to coach the team full-time, coached the side not only to two gold medals in the Olympics, but was the coach on the sidelines for two of the most dramatic goals in the history of football, regardless of gender.

But what started the hype machine for the U.S. women’s national team effort were the players who matured and then excelled under Tony DiCicco.

DiCicco had the unenviable task of replacing Dorrance as the U.S. manager for FIFA’s second world-level championship tournament in Norway in 1995. It was an opportunity for the U.S. women to defend their M&M’s Cup from China in 1991, but it was also an opportunity for the women to get televised exposure in the States.

In that second Women’s World Cup, the games were on ESPN2 live from Norway, usually in the morning. And they made for great theater, especially when DiCicco had to roll the dice in a group-stage match against Denmark and put scoring star Mia Hamm in goal for the last couple of minutes when Briana Scurry was sent off for leaving the 18-yard box in the act of punting the ball downfield.

DiCicco was therefore used to playing a hunch and gambling a bit when the 1999 Women’s World Cup came down to a penalty shootout against China.

What most people don’t know is that the fifth shooter for the States in that game was supposed to have been Julie Foudy. However, DiCicco had noticed that defender Brandi Chastain was almost machine-like in practice taking them with her non-dominant foot.

Plus, given Chastain’s history with the team, having had to earn her way back into the lineup after some time out of the elite pool. DiCicco knew she had the determination in that moment to beat Gao Hong with a shot into the side netting.

Without Tony DiCicco, there wouldn’t have been the bra-bearing celebration, or 90,123 people in the Rose Bowl clapping and cheering, or even a sustainable professional league like there is today. While he could have used his considerable pull within the industry to become a motivational speaker or a guest coach anywhere in the world, he instead stuck with the WUSA’s front office, and coached the WPS version of the Boston Breakers.

Tony DiCicco died on Monday evening. And the world of women’s sports is diminished without him.

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