Tony DiCicco loved coaching women. I often heard him say how they made his life easier because they listened to what he said and they took care of their own locker room.
Of course, these were not just any female athletes. They formed probably the greatest national team the United States has ever produced, male or female, in that they were a long-standing team, not an all-star team collected for one event.
The American soccer players had talent and character – and good coaching before and after DiCicco – but he presided during two of the great tournaments in American sports history: the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
DiCicco died over the weekend at 68. His obituary was written by Jeré Longman, who covered the team he called “The Girls of Summer” in his insightful book.
As Jeré points out, DiCicco learned early on that female athletes do not appreciate coaches who zero in on one player for criticism on the field. All of this may sound like stereotyping of players and coaches, males and females, but DiCicco knew what worked, and so did his players.
The American team had a stunning collection of individuals. I compare them to the Founding Fathers of the United States: how did all those people (men, at the time) arrive with so much wisdom and so much courage at the same time? (Where are they now?)
How in the world did Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Briana Scurry, Joy Fawcett, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly – just for starters – overlap in the same generation?
DiCicco (and his staff, and psychologist Colleen Hacker) helped them succeed, but it was the players’ team. He did not indulge in mind games and was not afraid of big personalities, welcoming Chastain, who had left the team but came back in 1999. (Julie Foudy, asked on a team questionnaire for her favorite actress, wrote down: “Brandi Chastain.”) Chastain’s nickname was “Hollywood.” She iced the clinching penalty kick, as Longman recalls in the obit.
Tony DiCicco was a teacher, as his players will testify in the sad days to come. He did not patronize reporters new to the sport. He loved his own craft, goalkeeping, and empowered Scurry with the tricks of the trade, including edging off the line to dominate a penalty kick – the fringe of legality, but part of that position, part of the sport, I believe.
When he left the job after 1999, it was to be a husband and a father to his four boys. Down the road, he hoped to come back, but strangely the federation did not use him. He continued to teach goalkeeping. My friend Alan Rubin, who often writes in to this site, is a former college keeper and retired businessman, still coaching young keepers in Massachusetts.
“Tony's book, ‘Catch Them Being Good,’ is one of about four go-to books that I regularly refer to for the human aspect of my goalkeeper training. Tony always emphasized the complete development of the athlete,” Rubin wrote me in an email.
“Tony gave a scenario in which a young keeper made a terrific save to recover from a significant mistake. ‘Praise the save and discuss how to improve upon the mistake several days later. You do not want to take the keeper off his/her high.’ I'm continually applying his logic.”
DiCicco had his own SoccerPlus GK summer camps and Alan mentors young keepers through his own J4K of West MA. Rubin said DiCicco was generous with advice and kind words. “Tony was one of those special persons that never lost touch….Sad, Sad, Sad!”
DiCicco was a presence on television during four Women’s World Cups – incisive and fearless, pointing out the good and bad from players, coaches, referees.
Laura Vecsey, a sports and political columnist for several newspapers, was covering the 2015 WWC in Canada and spent time around DiCicco, who was generous with his expertise. On Sunday Laura tweeted:
Truly a sad day in sports. Tony DiCicco was an institution in soccer, leading #USWNT to some of their greatest moments. A great person. RIP.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.