When it comes to coaching in the United States, few are more well known or respected within their sport than Tony DiCicco. As the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National team in the 1990s, DiCicco brought the U.S. program to where it is today; the best in the world, with many championships at the highest level.
On Monday, June 19, 2017, DiCicco passed away surrounded by his friends and family. The following weekend, the National Women’s Soccer League’s teams, players and fans took the time to pay their respects. Coaches and players wore black armbands carrying his initials and a moment of silence was observed before each match.
While few in and around the league knew DiCicco personally, it seemed as if many had a story to tell of the impact that the soccer legend had on them. When asked about DiCicco and what it meant to wear the armband for the game, Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons spoke about when DiCicco helped him as a coach of the Washington Spirit.
“I finally had the opportunity to talk to him when I was trying to sign a Japanese girl here at the Spirit,” Parsons said to the media after the game on June, 24. “I reached out to Tony, who didn’t have to help me, and he just sat there for an hour on the phone telling me everything I needed to know about this Japanese international. And talked to me and walked me through everything. He didn’t know me, he had no tie to the Washington Spirit, he probably had closer ties to other teams. So it was really cool when I finally got to talk to him, now you read what everyone else is saying about him, I experienced that first hand.”
Many NWSL coaches grew up outside of the U.S. and for them, the USWNT head coach was the face of women’s soccer for them. While he didn’t know many teams or players, Parsons said he knew who DiCicco was. The impact he had on the women’s game stretched far beyond that of just the U.S. program.
“He obviously was one of the few coaches really when I lived at home that I’d heard of because of the legacy that he had and things that he’d won,” Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey said to the media post game on June 24. “When you think of women’s soccer in the US, Tony’s name I think will stay and be someone’s name that will be constantly talked about for a long time. Arguably that will be his biggest legacy is there’s a number of people in this country that have done fantastic things in the game and a majority of them are players. He’s probably the one that anyone who has played the game in the last 30 years will know who he is. I think that’s a fantastic thing to know.”
Even for players that did not play under him, the legacy he left behind is wide reaching. DiCicco was the only coach to have won both an Olympic gold medal and a Women’s World Cup.
“I never had him as a coach, which is really unfortunate because all the players that did have him just had glowing things to say about him,” FC Kansas City captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. “Even talking to some of the players on the ’99 team, what they said about him is that what made him so special was that he knew he had special players and he just let them be themselves and with that, they did amazing things like win the Olympics, win the ’99 World Cup. I think that takes a special leader.”
Very few individuals in the NWSL had as close of ties to DiCicco as Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra. Gabarra’s wife, Carin Jennings, played for DiCicco on the USWNT, most notably during the 1996 Olympics. For the Gabarra’s, DiCicco was more than just a soccer legend.
“It really hits home to me. Tony was my wife’s coach with the national team and Tony was the commissioner in the WUSA when I was first a professional coach,” Gabarra said postgame on June 24. “Tony was in WPS, a competitor. All the great things, all the glowing accolades about Tony, they can all be repeated, but for me personally, he was a family man first, he was a great coach, he was a great mentor, just a great human.”
After coaching the USWNT, DiCicco took on different roles in the Women’s United Soccer Association and the Women’s Professional Soccer leagues. In the WUSA, he was the founding commissioner before becoming the head coach of the Boston Breakers in the WPS. As a tribute to the late coach, Breakers fans attempted to sell out Jordan Field in his honor. While they did not reach full capacity, 3209 fans showed up for the largest crowd of the season.
Even after this weekend, the women’s soccer community will continue to remember the man that was so heavily involved in bringing the women’s game to the highest level.
“If we can grab the special qualities that he had consistently every week and keep spreading that love and that support for anyone in the game, I’m sure he’d be proud,” Parsons said.