Obituary: Tony DiCicco, football coach who led US women's team to World Cup glory

Tony DiCicco, who coached the United States to the 1999 World Cup title before a packed Rose Bowl in a landmark for women's football, has died at 68.

Football coachTony DiCicco has died at the age of 68. Picture: AP
Football coachTony DiCicco has died at the age of 68. Picture: AP

He died on 19 June at his home in Wethersfield, Connecticut, with his family present, son Anthony DiCicco said.

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 football.

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 US beat China 5-4 on the winning penalty kick by Brandi Chastain in Pasadena, California, before 90,185 fans, by far the largest attendance for a women’s football 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,” Gulati said. “US Soccer will forever be thankful to Tony for his vast contributions to the game.”

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 said. “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. By percentage wins he is the most successful coach in US football history, as well as the only coach to win more than 100 games 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 in 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: “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.