“Tony never felt like he knew everything,” Mia Hamm, the team’s star forward, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “It was incredibly empowering. His security breathed so much confidence into all of us. What it told me was that I didn’t have to be perfect 100 percent of the time. There were incredibly talented people around me, and they were going to help pick me up.”
The United States defeated China, 2-1, to win the first Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer before a record crowd of 76,489. The American women also won gold in basketball and softball at the Atlanta Games. Those victories have been widely viewed as the accelerant in a greater appreciation of women’s team sports in the United States.
The Olympic tournament also convinced players and organizers that the 1999 Women’s World Cup should be played in large football stadiums across the United States. It would become the largest sporting event ever held for women, with the epic final against China drawing 90,185 fans to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
There was enormous pressure on the United States to win, but DiCicco insisted on seeing the tournament as an opportunity, not a burden.
“He had this incredible energy,” Julie Foudy, a co-captain of the team, said by phone on Tuesday. “He’d scream, ‘I love my job!’ It was this contagious positivity that was so fun to be around.”
DiCicco’s coaching style was summarized in an aphorism attributed to Hamm: “Coach us like men, treat us like women.” As he explained it, the women on the national team wanted to be pushed and challenged like all elite athletes, but they did not want a coach yelling at them or singling anyone out for criticism in front of others.
The World Cup final against China ended 0-0 after regulation and overtime, extending to penalty kicks. DiCicco then made two important decisions that were as much psychological as tactical.
Hamm, who had struggled with her aim in practice, was hesitant to take a penalty kick. But she was the world’s leading scorer, and DiCicco was adamant. He relayed to her a message through the assistant coach Lauren Gregg, Hamm recalled on Tuesday: “This is what you know how to do. This is why you’re on the team.”
After the American goalkeeper Briana Scurry made a diving save, Hamm made her kick, and Brandi Chastain then stepped up for the decisive moment. Her nickname was Hollywood, and she was willing to shoot the ball with either foot. DiCicco switched her to the fifth and final spot on the penalty-kick list, saying later, “Brandi wants the spotlight and to have the responsibility on her.”
His instinct was correct. Chastain expertly took the kick with her left foot, won the game and ripped her jersey off in jubilant celebration.
Anthony D. DiCicco Jr. was born on Aug. 5, 1948, in Hartford and lived most of his life in nearby Wethersfield, Conn. His father owned a car radiator business. His mother worked as an engineering associate at a manufacturing company.
He is survived by his wife, Diane, and four sons, Anthony, Andrew, Alex and Nicholas.
Tony DiCicco became an all-American goalkeeper at Springfield College in Massachusetts, played professional soccer for five years and, in 1973, played briefly for the men’s national team.
He was the goalkeepers coach for the women’s national team when it won the inaugural women’s World Cup in 1991, and he became head coach in 1994. In 2001, he played a key role in the start of women’s professional soccer in the United States, becoming the chief operating officer, and later the commissioner, of the short-lived Women’s United Soccer Association.
“Tony had a grace in the simple way,” Chastain said on Tuesday. “He didn’t make things overly complicated. He would come in and say, ‘You can do it, you’ve got this, go get it.’ Those words were just enough to make us go, ‘Yes, we can.’”
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