A year ago today the most winning coach in U.S. Soccer history, a soccer legend who positively influenced the lives of thousands and thousands of players, coaches, and fans – Tony DiCicco – left this world. I was lucky enough to have worked for Tony’s SoccerPlus Camps as a Staff Coach and Director for over 10 years. One of my life’s greatest honors was being asked to speak at Tony’s Memorial Service last July.
I have awoken this morning reflecting on a year without being able to pick up the phone and call Tony, feeling both melancholy and determined.
In the words of Mia Hamm, "I miss my coach."
Tony was everything you would expect of a World Class coach motivated by human potential, not personal ego. He was complete quality. His heart was open and his energy was infectious. He thought of himself first as an educator, and second as a coach. Tony made those around him who were driven by self-interest and/or ego flustered, uneasy, and uncomfortable. He was clear, confident, and comfortable.
The soccer ecosystem in the United States is not working. We are not living up to our potential as a soccer nation. There is often a feeling of hopelessness or overwhelm when we begin to discuss “fixing” soccer. We don’t have confidence or clarity in a plan from our U.S. Soccer leaders that adequately addresses our problems and serves all players and coaches. We often feel disenfranchised, unconnected to the very organization we want to commit ourselves to, unsure who is leading us, lacking in trust.
In these moments of uncertainly, we can remember everything Tony stood for, and have hope.
Our leadership at U.S. Soccer needs to be more like Tony.
Tony saw the positive in people. He was an expert listener who believed in people’s potential, and deeply understood the value and importance of a strong team culture. He was both visionary and practical. He wasn’t afraid to take responsibility for his mistakes and acknowledge his weaknesses. He was always learning. He actively sought to surround himself with people who shared his values, but were different, divergently talented, and compensated for his shortcomings. His players largely loved him. Tony was a mentor and friend to coaches worldwide.
Charles Boehm recently wrote an article urging U.S. Soccer to refocus and evaluate its leadership. When I read this article I found myself thinking:
“If we had 20 leaders like Tony at U.S. Soccer, everything would be fine.”
In his USSoccerPlayers.com article, Boehm said: “Soccer in the United States finds itself at a crossroads, the game is already richer than ever before from a financial standpoint. However, the number of registered youth players is either stagnant or falling. Elite player development remains a spotty, inefficient area. The pro game has its own set of concerns and criticisms….There’s work to do here,” Boehm continued “….US Soccer needs a leader. This goes beyond the current state of the USMNT and its coaching search. It’s the organization and the sport as a whole.…”
This article resonated with me. Deeply.
In his twitter link to the article Boehm wrote: “Everyone knows that North American soccer has a healthy wallet, which was a prime factor in securing World Cup 2026. The deeper challenge for Cordeiro & Co. is nurturing its soul.”
“Yes!” I thought, “NURTURE THE SOUL of the American soccer community.”
It struck me that this three word phrase “nurture the soul” resonated so deeply with me because it put into context what I, myself, am attempting to do for others in soccer and what I want U.S. Soccer leadership to do for me.
There are countless people like me – dedicated, passionate, steadfast, motivated. We are unified by the same mission. Even if we have never described it with these three words – it is a life-purpose we have rallied around.
We care about the future of soccer in America.
We want our great country to live up to our expansive potential. We want to be better. We want a quality-filled environment for players, coaches and referees of all levels.
We want to nurture the soul of the American soccer community.
And we need to feel the presence of our leaders at U.S. Soccer. We need them to acknowledge us, work to establish trust, learn from us, and lead us.
You know the feeling you get when you are speaking to someone and there is a strong connection between you that transcends the moment? There is a wonderful feeling of mutual association that amplifies a sense of energy, power, and purpose.
In that moment of connection – your soul is being nurtured – you are being acknowledged.
That is how I felt in the presence of Tony DiCicco. He would sit down with me at the dining hall table at camps and sift through the clutter of the moment – all the items that could distract him from being present with me – and he would nurture my soul. Looking me in the eyes. Nodding his head. Listening in a deeply visceral, reflective manner – even when the conversation drifted to mundane. Sometimes his voice would lower its tone as he made a statement for me to reflect upon, or sometimes his eyes would light up with the challenge of a question that caused me to pause, go deeper – be honest and real. Sometimes he would just laugh – those moments were pure magic…laughing with Tony was the best.
My soul was nurtured by Tony. I trusted him.
And coaches, players, parents, fans, administrators, business people – all of those fortunate enough to have crossed paths with Tony – felt similarly.
In a soccer world too often filled with egos, pomp, ulterior motives, selfishness, money, fear of losing power, and a lack of perspective – Tony was the opposite. He was pure quality.
Tony was confident of his heart, he was confident of his knowledge and perspective, he was confident in the quality of his work and his plan for the future.
Let’s reflect on Tony DiCicco’s leadership. Let’s honor him and internalize what we learned from him about self-awareness, trust, and building quality teams based on strong culture. Let’s let those lessons propel us towards realizing our awesome potential as a soccer nation.
We must start with ourselves.
When I was working with Tony as a Director at his SoccerPlus Camps, I was proud of the work I was doing. I was confident in the methodology, the process, and the plan. I was learning and always trying to improve. I was energized and often buzzing from the interactions I had with players and coaches.
Are you confident with your knowledge and understanding, and the work you are doing in the game? Are you not just adequately, but instead AMAZINGLY, serving the needs of the players, coaches, referees, and parents around you? Are you changing players’ lives? Do you have hard conversations? Do you prepare adequately? Do you SEEK knowledge, guidance and support? Do you GIVE knowledge, guidance, and support? Are you empathetic? Are you honest with yourself? Do people trust you?
Can you be better?
We must also ask more of our leadership, their plans, and the culture they are establishing.
Tony was a master culture builder. In his Women’s World Cup, Olympic, and U-17 World Cup Champion Teams, in his SoccerPlus Camps, in his professional teams, his soccer club, and with his family – the leadership he demonstrated in establishing strong cultures should be something we reflect upon, remember, and let guide us.
And that is why I especially miss Tony so much today. I miss my coach. I want peace of mind in the plan for the future. I miss my leader. I want a North Star and Guiding Light to lead the way as we collectively seek to improve soccer in America.
I want to feel confident in the direction of U.S. Soccer and I want to look up and say: “Yes, I believe in this. I trust you. This is a culture I want to be a part of.”
There are thousands and thousands of people like me around the country who have dedicated themselves to the act of nurturing the soul of American soccer….We are volunteers, full timers, soccer players, not soccer players, lovers of the game, parents, fans, referees, coaches, Board members, journalists and administrators.
We are the soul of the American soccer community.
We are imploring our leaders at U.S. Soccer to be more like Tony. Sit down at the table and talk with us. See us. Hear us. Connect with us. Look us in the eyes and gratefully acknowledge our passion, persistence, and presence.
Feel what we are feeling. Hear what we are saying. Reflect and learn from our experiences. Identify your weaknesses and opportunities for growth and solve them by employing quality people who are not ego driven. Ask us questions and listen in a deeply visceral and reflective manner to our answers.
Laugh with us.
Like Tony, we care deeply, for the right reasons, about the future of soccer in America.
We continually strive to be better and we need our leaders at U.S. Soccer to step up and lead with quality people, quality programs, and quality plans we can believe in and that make sense for everyone, not just our elite players.
We are the soul of the American soccer community. Earn our trust. Nurture us.