On Tuesday, a legend of the game of football passed away rather suddenly at the young age of 68. This man was a manager extraordinaire, a giant of the game whose legacy will long outlive him. However, many people, even football fans, will not recognize the name Tony DiCicco and fewer will realise his impact. That is because DiCicco was an American women’s football coach.
DiCicco became the head coach of the U.S. women’s national team in 1994 after a stint as a goalkeeping coach, where he witnessed the U.S.’s first World Cup victory. He was the manager of the famous 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup team that won the dramatic penalty shoot-out over China, immortalised by Brandi Chastain’s sportswear celebration.
While that victory was the highlight, it was far from his only achievement. DiCicco in his time with the national team compiled a 103-8-8 record and led his team to a gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics. After he left the team in 1999, he continued to give back to the women’s game in a variety of ways. Notably, he managed the U.S. Women U-20 to a World Cup win in the 2008 U-20 World Cup in Chile. His squad featured future stars Alex Moran, Sydney Leroux, and Megan Klingenberg.
On the domestic side, DiCicco was the first commissioner of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), one of the most recent professional women’s soccer leagues in the U.S. and a precursor to the current NWSL. After the WUSA folded, he was the manager of the Boston Breakers in the WPS from 2009 to 2011. Between coaching stints, he was a regular commentator on television for different networks’ coverage of U.S. women’s football.
While he doesn’t have the profile of a Sir Alex Ferguson, Tony DiCicco’s impact on the game is important. The 1999 Women’s World Cup gave the women’s game a signature moment. While it reinforced the U.S. as a power in the sport, rather than providing other nations like China a breakthrough, the television ratings and media attention around the world showed that the women’s game was not just a novelty. Only now we are seeing the true arrival of women’s club soccer with slowly growing leagues across the world; recently Juventus announced that they would join Manchester City and other men’s powers by creating a women’s team. DiCicco was a champion for the game and a great ambassador in the world but especially in the U.S. His work as a successful coach for club and country, as well as a broadcaster, gave a legitimacy to the game where to this point it has been most successful, helping sponsors and FIFA get behind it globally.
While he didn’t invent a new formation or have a trophy named after him, DiCicco was a critical person to help push women’s soccer into the mainstream.