During the USA’s first 2017 Tournament of Nations match against Australia on Aug. 27 in Seattle, U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team will honor former U.S. WNT head coach Tony DiCicco, who passed away on June 19. The team will wear black armbands emblazoned with “TD”, and during the ninth minute the crowd will be asked to rise and honor DiCicco with a minute of applause from 8:00-8:59, celebrating the life of a man who had a tremendous impact on women’s soccer in the USA and around the world.
DiCicco, who is the winningest coach in U.S. history, coached the USA to the 1996 Olympic gold medal and the 1999 Women’s World Cup title, but lesser known and just as impressive is that he came back to U.S. Soccer eight years after stepping down following the ’99 WWC to lead the USA to the championship at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile.
The USA won the second of its three FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup titles, by defeating Korea DPR 2-1 in the championship game.
Four players who were on that team -- Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Meghan Klingenberg and Alyssa Naeher -- are still in the U.S. WNT player pool and share their thoughts on DiCicco and their U-20 experience.
Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Meghan Klingenberg at the 2008 FIFA U-20 World Cup
Sydney Leroux played in the first of her two FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups in 2008. She played 493 minutes over six matches, starting five, and scored five goals with three assists to win the Golden Boot as the top scorer at the World Cup. She also won the Golden Ball as the top player.
Syd Remembers Tony:
When I first started with the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team, I was just a young, crazy kid who had left home to pursue my soccer dreams. I had changed associations from Canada, but nothing was guaranteed as far as playing for the USA. Tony gave me my first big chance, choosing me for the U-20 World Cup Team in 2008.
I had to prove myself within U.S. Soccer and it was slow-going for sure. I made the World Cup Team, but I didn’t think I would play much in the tournament. In the first game in Chile, I started on the bench and it was 0-0 at halftime against France. Tony sent me on and I ended up scoring two goals and assisting on the other one. We won 3-0.
Sometimes, even with a good performance as a substitute, you might still be a reserve in the next game, but Tony gave me the chance to play for the rest of the tournament. I ended up getting those awards and of course, best of all, we won.
He showed belief in me. That inspired me for sure. It also gave me confidence as a young player and that certainly played a huge role in helping me as I moved on in my career.
I owe all of that to Tony.
That summer, Tony had to make some tough decisions on the roster, but he was not afraid to do that. He had an idea of what he wanted from us and did a great job of communicating that. He put together what turned out to be a great team and pushed us to be world champions.
He was always very honest and very deliberate in his decisions, and he was great at creating a positive team atmosphere and helping us bond, which I know helped us on the field as well. I still respect that and cherish that to this day. I’ll always be appreciative of him giving me the chance to play in that World Cup and he will always be one of my favorite coaches.
Meghan Klingenberg was a starting outside back on the USA’s 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Team and played every minute of all five games she played during the tournament.
Kling Remembers Tony:
Tony is one of the most important people in my life and in my heart. When Tony became the U-20 coach, he was willing to take a chance on me. I didn’t make the previous U-20 team, and by the time I got called back in for the next cycle, he had already started to pare down the roster. I guess he saw something because he kept bringing me back, and he gave me the chance to play in that World Cup, which was an important experience in all of our lives.
One thing I loved about Tony is that he would give constructive criticism, but he wouldn’t ever get mad when somebody made mistakes. He would get upset if there wasn’t effort or focus or concentration, but he created an environment where the team worked so hard but we were still all pulling in the same direction. We could be competing and getting so angry on the field, but when it came down to it, we were all on the same bus, riding the same way, and everyone was in the right seat.
Tony was always true to his way of coaching. He held people to high standards, and if you didn’t meet them he had no issues with sitting you down, but at the same time he always gave you the chance to work your way back in.
He believed in the whole team, not just one or two players leading the way, and I think he really inspired a lot of players to be great.
I loved winning the World Cup in 2015. That’s the ultimate point of a person’s career. But I’ve never had more fun than winning the World Cup in 2008. We were more innocent back then. He wanted us to have fun, he wanted us to be kids, and when we needed to be athletes and competitors, we were. He would have just as much fun with the coaches. That was really cool about Tony: he cultivated a culture of winning and fun.
Alex Morgan first burst onto the international scene at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. She played 445 minutes over six games, starting five, and scored four goals, including the eventual game-winner in the World Cup Final. She won the Silver Ball winner as second-best player in the World Cup and the Bronze Boot winner as third-best scorer.
Alex Remembers Tony:
The first thing that stands out in my mind when thinking about Tony is his belief and his passion for the women’s game.
In 2008, when he took over the U-20 team, he had coached in World Cups and the Olympics and had won. He had coached professionally and at youth clubs, and at that point, he had done it all in the sport and made a huge impact. But he still took on that project because he loved coaching, he loved our National Teams and he loved seeing players make a difference in the sport. I thought it was very cool for a coach who had accomplished all of that to come into the U-20s and really make the most of the experience.
I was one of the last players chosen for the 2008 World Cup Team, but it meant a lot to me that he believed in me from the start. One thing that always impressed me was that he wanted our team to be close, to bond, even though we didn’t spend as much time together as the full team might. He made time in the weekly schedule for team bonding activities, and he wanted the players to enjoy the overall experience, on and off the field. Playing on a youth team where confidence can wane and it can get stressful, I really appreciated that.
A lot of things I remember about Tony were not necessarily things on the field or from his pre-game talks or even things in a team setting. What I remember most about him were our individual meetings. I know the things he would say to me were because he wanted to make me a better player, and he wanted to show me he believed in me even though I was one of the last players chosen for the team.
The U-20s helped bridge that huge gap for me from college to the National Team, and Tony encouraged and motivated me to make that leap. He wanted all the players on the team to do well and succeed, and it didn’t just end with the U-20 World Cup - it continued for the rest of his life.
Every time I saw Tony over the past nine years since that tournament, he was very encouraging, and I always got some joy from seeing him. It always made me smile because he helped me so much at such an important time in my life. It is sad that I won’t get that feeling again, but I’m also happy because I know the positive impact he had on the lives of so many players.
Alyssa Naeher was the starting goalkeeper in the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and played five matches, sitting during the final group game after the USA had already clinched passage to the quarterfinals. She had four shutouts in the tournament and did not allow a goal until the very end of the World Cup Final, the only one she would allow. She was named the Golden Glove winner as top ‘keeper in the World Cup.
Alyssa Remembers Tony:
The 2008 World Cup cycle was sort of an awkward time because we all had to miss some of our college seasons. Tony had players pulling out and he was making some tough decisions on the roster, so I remember being a little unsure of how the team was going to come together. I remember sitting and having a conversation with him, and a lot of players were stressing out a bit.
Knowing what I know now, it was a good decision to miss some college games to get the opportunity to play in a World Cup, but at the time, it was kind of a big deal for us and I felt like I was leaving my college teammates. He looked me square in the eye and said, “Do you trust me? I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing.” At that moment, with the conviction he had when he said that to me, I was like “Okay, I trust you. I’m in. I’m 100% committed to this team.”
From there, he created this culture around the team that was something I’d never been a part of before and something we probably wouldn’t have won without. After we won the World Cup, I remember thinking about that conversation. He was right! And I’m so glad I bought in and trusted his process. He brought together a bunch of players who no one really knew about and created something really special for us, the coaches and the whole staff.
I was fortunate to be on three different teams that he coached. Regardless of whether it was our summer team of random players trying to stay fit for our college season, the U-20s going out and trying to win a World Cup and use that stepping stone to get to the next level or to the Boston Breakers, or playing professionally and try to establish pro women’s soccer in the USA, he had the same passion and coached each team with the same dedication.
I was at his Memorial in Connecticut and it was very inspiring and fun to hear the stories about Tony from the ‘99ers. All of those teams I played for and the ‘99ers were all trying to accomplish different things, but he went about his job in the same way. He cared about his players and he loved coaching and our sport. We will all be forever grateful for the role he played in women’s soccer in the United States.