USA Sports First Look

US soccer remembers Tony DiCicco, one of its most influential coaches

The women's US soccer coach led the team to gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games and then the '99 World Cup crown, igniting a passion for US soccer and women's sports never seen before.

In this May 30, 2012, file photo, National Soccer Hall of Famer Tony DiCicco stands on the sidelines before an international friendly soccer match between Brazil and the United States, in Landover, Md., on May 30, 2012. Mr. DiCicco, who died June 19, 2017, coached the US to the 1999 Women’s World Cup title.
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  • AP
    Associated Press

Tony DiCicco, who died Monday, coached the US to the 1999 World Cup title before an overflow Rose Bowl crowd in a landmark for women's soccer.

Mr. DiCicco became the US coach in 1994 and led the team to the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the first Olympics to feature women's soccer.

He then guided a team filled with superstars – women's sports trailblazers such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Michelle Akers – to the '99 World Cup crown. In the final, the United States beat China 5-4 on the winning penalty kick by Brandi Chastain in Pasadena, Calif., before 90,185 fans, by far the largest attendance for a women's soccer game.

US Soccer President Sunil Gulati called DiCicco "one of the most influential coaches in US Soccer history."

"Tony's passion for the game as a coach, administrator and broadcaster was always evident, and his relationships with everyone in the soccer community distinguished him as a compassionate and much-loved man," Mr. Gulati said. "U.S. Soccer will forever be thankful to Tony for his vast contributions to the game."

Ms. Foudy said DiCicco was among the "wonderful gems" in her life and was "always about family." She said DiCicco would walk on the field and say, "I love my job."

"He contributed to our ability to spread joy and enthusiasm," Foudy told The Associated Press by phone. "That was Tony – having fun and constant laughter. He was such a humble and understated guy."

Chastain, whose celebration after the '99 winning kick became an iconic photo, posted a loving tribute on Facebook.

"Thank you Coach for all you have given to every player you ever met, as well as for giving a shining example and role model of how to be a dedicated parent, how to be passionate about your job as well as tireless in the pursuit of excellence," Chastain wrote.

DiCicco is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. He is the winningest coach in U.S. Soccer history by percentage as well as the only coach to win more than 100 games. He went 103-8-8 from 1994 to 1999. He then left coaching and did television work.

In 2008, DiCicco took over the US Under-20 women's team and led it to a world title.

Amanda Duffy, the National Women's Soccer League managing director of operations, lauded DiCicco.

"Tony will be remembered for his immense passion, his dedication to the game and his life pursuit to inspire players and people," she said. "A truly influential figure, no one will forget the impact he has had on so many people's lives and his role in the tremendous growth of women's soccer in the US."

DiCicco was the goalkeeper coach for Anson Dorrance on the first Women's World Cup championship team in 1991. In 1994, he took over from Dorrance and led the Americans to a third-place finish at the 1995 World Cup in Sweden.

From there, his team swept the next two major events, sparking a level of interest in the women's game never seen before in this country.

And he played a key leadership role in the start of women's professional soccer leagues in the United States. In 2001, he was chief operating officer for the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), which played from 2001-2003. He was the league's commissioner in 2002 and 2003.

He coached the Boston Breakers in Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) from 2009-2011.

DiCicco was born in Wethersfield and graduated from Springfield (Massachusetts) College in 1970, where as a goalkeeper he was an All-American, captain and most valuable player his senior year. DiCicco also earned a master's degree from Central Connecticut State in 1978.

DiCicco played five years as a pro in the American Soccer League with the Connecticut Wildcats and Rhode Island Oceaneers. In 1973, he toured and played for the national team.

The family said in a statement on Twitter: "In honor of Tony's life, we ask that the emotion evoked by his passing be channeled towards the ideals he embodied: integrity, compassion and love."

He is survived by wife Diane and four sons: Anthony, Andrew, Alex and Nicholas. He died Monday at his home in Wethersfield, Connecticut, with his family present, son Anthony DiCicco said Tuesday on Twitter. No cause was given, although his family said he battled health issues in recent months.

AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York contributed to this report.