A Tale of Two Coaches

I have to say up front that I'm not a big fan of Tony DiCicco.

It has nothing to do with him as a coach, since, frankly, the guy is simply the best. Hands down. Give him a decent collection of talent, ship them all off to an international championship of some kind and then clear some room on the trophy shelf.

Olympics, senior World Cup, age group World Cup, just doesn't seem to matter; the man delivers the goods.

And for good measure, he operates what is beyond question the best Goalkeeping Academy in the US. (Please don't write me some crap about Joe Machnik - yeah, he's got a camp. He's also in charge of MLS referees. End of discussion.)

To top it off, he's had a running feud with USSF in general and Sunil Gulati in particular for many years. What other testament to good character do you need?

Unfortunately, I had a somewhat nasty personal run-in with the guy and, if you sit me down and start pumping me with single malt scotch I'll tell you why I think he's a sniveling little rat-faced git.

But that's just me, and I've learned to look beyond all of that and simply admire what the guy can do with a soccer team.

Which brings us to the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship.

(Gotcha there, didn't I?)

DiCicco was brought into the Women's National team program by North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, who brought the former goalkeeper for the American Soccer League Rhode Island Oceaneers with him to coach the USWNT keepers.

Thus, when Dorrance guided the US to victory in the first Women's World Cup ever held (1991) DiCicco was sitting next to him on the bench.

DiCicco took over the team from Dorrance in 1994,compiled a record of 103-8-8 and won the now legendary 1999 Women's World Cup in China. Meanwhile Dorrance was in Chapel Hill winning NCAA Championships with almost boring regularity.

But DiCicco ended up very publicly on the outs with USSF over a host of issues, not least of which was what he felt was second rate treatment of the women's program. Dorrance, meanwhile, spent the better part of the same decade fighting off a ludicrous Title IX lawsuit filed by a couple former players.

(Note: Please direct all morally outraged hate-filled emails directly to Huss@bigsoccer.com.)

So it was somewhat fitting that you could sit in your den yesterday watching Dorrance and DiCicco, in back-to-back games, win major Championships.

What's more, with DiCicco starting three players who would otherwise have been on the field in the NCAA Championship match (Nikki Washington and Meghan Klingenberg of UNC and Lauren Fowlkes of Notre Dame; he kindly let Dorrance keep U20 pool players Casey Nogueira, who scored both Tarheel goals, and Olympic team super-sub Tobin Heath) there were enough plots, sub-plots and plotting-plots to keep much better writers than I busy for a week or more.

In Chile, DiCicco's U20's dusted off a tough, determined - although horribly coiffed - People's Republic of Get Me the Hell Out of Here side by simply playing the game.

Kim Jong-il's ladies tried mightly to knock the US out of rhythm, shake them up and get them frustrated, a tactic which has worked well in the past. But DiCicco's simple ground passing, ball-possession tactics left the North Koreans chasing, fouling and waiting for their incredible fitness and constant pressure to overcome the American's superior athleticism and skills sets.

It never did.

Sometime today, someone will post a video clip of Alex Morgan's incredible, unbelievable, breathtaking second half goal. Yes, it's OK to notice that she makes Heather Mitts look like Julie Foudy's homelier sister, but then watch the skill.

Pia Sundhage, sitting attentively in the stands, probably hasn't wiped the smile off her face yet today. Tonya Antonucci probably has a little more bounce in her step today as well. This is one heck of a collection of talent.

As for Dorrance's North Carolina team, winning 19 of the 26 NCAA Women's Championships EVER HELD sometimes makes you forget just how extraordinary each of those teams has been.

One group that doesn't need to be reminded is Notre Dame, who carried a 26-0 record and extremely high hopes into this final, but theoir six seniors and three All Americans left just as empty handed as they have the other four times ND has played UNC in the title game.

It couldn't have started better for ND, with a shocking Kerri Hanks goal at the 17 second mark, but the game quickly settled into trench warfare, particularly after DiCicco leave-at-home Nogueira tied the game at one.

The thing appeared headed for OT and then spot kicks until. with two minutes left, Nogueira wrote Finis to Notre Dame's dreams by burying the game winner.

And somehow you just knew that, late last night, a couple old friends had a long phone chat. Just two guys who've been there and back and who understand that in the end, winning is what it's all about.