Tony DiCicco: 'We should be excellent in every position'

By Mike Woitalla

Tony DiCicco coached the USA to crowns at the 1996 Olympics, 1999 Women's World Cup and 2008 U-20 World Cup. We spoke to DiCicco about the state of youth soccer in the USA.

SOCCER AMERICA: What are your general thoughts on state of the youth game? It seems to me that if one roams the fields of America at various levels, we’re seeing much more good youth soccer being played than 10 or 20 years ago. Would you agree?

TONY DICICCO: Yes. I think the kids are getting better coaches earlier. When I was in youth soccer, I was amazed at how cutthroat it was. It was all about winning. I think now there's more consciousness about player development, developing technique in your players.

It isn't all just about winning. But winning is still too important, in my opinion, because it's a business. That's why I think the MLS academies are the closest thing we have to getting it right, because for them it’s not as much a business of winning, it's about player development.

But for most of our girls clubs it's about winning. If you win, more girls come to your club, you're going to make more money, you're going to win more.

You'll see some decent soccer. People trying to play soccer and not just knock the ball over the top, and your speed player gets behind the defense and scores goals. Unfortunately, we still do too much of that and that player doesn't develop how she should.

But it has gotten better because there has been some [U.S. Soccer] direction now from the April Kater [named Head Development Coach in January 2013] and April Heinrichs [Technical Director since 2011] and Jill Ellis [Development Director from 2011 until taking the full national team’s helm in May] when she was there. There has been a fundamental shift. But we lost seven years.

SA: How so?

TONY DICICCO: Greg Ryan had no interest in youth soccer when he became national team coach [in 2005]. Pia Sundhage wasn’t going to have the time. By the time Jill and April were hired, we lost seven years. We lost our compass on player development on the girls side. Now there's more of a consciousness of player development, technique development at the younger ages. And it is better.

SA: Some alarms went off with recent results from the women’s youth national teams. The USA fell in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup and the U-17s failed to qualify for the 2014 U-17 World Cup …

TONY DICICCO: Our U-20 team underachieved. I didn't like some of the player selection, yet it was [Coach] Michelle French's first time and she's going to get better. I believe that she was over-influenced with some of her player selections.

One positive is the team was young and a number of those players will have another U-20 cycle.

Here's the thing that troubles me. There's a kid, Janine Beckie, playing for Texas Tech and Coach Tom Stone. I really liked this player but Tom informed me that she got cut from the U.S. U-20 team. Then she ended up playing for Canada. She starred for Canada, and now is playing with their full team. … We can’t let quality players like that end up playing for other federations.

I heard she got cut "because she didn't understand defensive concepts." This is a goalscorer. This is a girl who breaks down defenses with individual flair. And she didn't make the team because she didn't understand defensive concepts? The odd thing was that our U-20 team didn’t look like they really understood a collective defensive concept either. Bottom line, I believe we have to do a better job of player identification.

SA: And the U-17s failing to qualify?

TONY DICICCO: That was the second time the U-17s haven’t qualified out of Concacaf [also having failed in 2000]. I think U.S. Soccer let those teams down a little bit. Their first international event is qualification, and although they are going to dominate athletically in Concacaf, they're not going to have the sophistication of some of these teams. Certainly Mexico, Costa Rica and a few others are going to be pretty smart players. The American female game -- club or college, is different than the international female game.

Five, six years ago when I was on a girls development committee I said we need a U-16 girls national team. The U-17s’ qualifying is every other year. There's a percentage of players who aren't going to end up in that U-17 pool training for a World Cup, but given time they may emerge.

SA: On the boys side, there’s the U.S. Soccer Development Academy whereas U.S. Club Soccer’s ECNL plays the role for the elite on the girls side. Should U.S. Soccer launch a Development Academy on the girls side?

TONY DICICCO: Before April Heinrichs became Technical Director, Anson Dorrance and I were on a committee. And they asked, “What's our next step for girls youth development?”

We said Academy, and they balked on it. We said Academy again. They admitted to us we have stretched our human resources and it has cost us so much to build a boys Academy that we're just not ready to do it. So let's go with the ECNL.

At that time I thought the ECNL was doing a very good job. They were monitoring what the boys Academy was doing with not all the resources. I'm not as close as I was a few years ago, but I think the ECNL does a pretty good job.

But I said we need full-time coaches on the girls side. If not an academy, we need more scouts. We need an infrastructure.

I think our men's challenges are more acute. Do I think we should go to a girls academy now? I'm not sure. I'm not close enough. That's a question for April Heinrichs and April Kater, because they know what the money is.

SA: One big difference between the ECNL and the Development Academy is that the ECNL is age-pure, so younger players aren’t being challenged by playing with and against older players …

TONY DICICCO: I think a lot of the [ECNL] clubs do play their players up. But right, we have what I call it the “under syndrome.” Even college is U-21 and we're "under" in every age group. If you look at the European teams, they've got 16-, 17-year-olds playing with national team players in their club system and that's a quicker learning curve.

There isn't as much [U.S. Soccer Federation] oversight in ECNL but I think U.S. Club Soccer does a pretty good job.

I'm not absolutely sure that the Development Academy is giving us players beyond what ODP might have given us. Would DeAndre Yedlin have been discovered in ODP? Would he have been discovered in college ranks? Is our system perfect, no? Is the ECNL as effective as the boys Academy? I don't know, to be honest with you. Is the boys Academy working? Are we developing World Cup players?

But it's what they're doing and right now the ECNL I think works and and so does ODP, which in some states is still quite good. You can find players from a lot of different areas for our women's national team.

SA: So amid the alphabet soup of youth soccer – what is the main issue for progress on the girls side?

TONY DICICCO: U.S. Soccer has spent a tremendous amount of money on youth soccer. They've done a very good job. But the truth is, we have hundreds of thousands more players than any other country in the world.

We should be excellent in every position. We should be athletic in every position. I hear people say the U.S. is just athletic. But would anybody say Mia Hamm was just athletic? Would anybody say Alex Morgan is just athletic?

We can be athletic in every position with players who also have technique and mentality. We just gotta find them.

Why haven't we found more Christie Rampones? They're out there. I'd like to see us have more people looking for players.

Are we going to look deeper for players or just the top 40 colleges and the PDAs and Slammers of the world for players? There are players in other areas. Not as many and they’re harder to find. But we have to find them and they can be special.

Last week we spoke with Tony DiCicco about the full national team and this summer’s Women’s World Cup: “Hope Solo has used up her bonus points”

(Tony DiCicco served as an assistant to Anson Dorrance when the USA won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and as goalkeeper coach of the U.S. men’s team at the 1993 U-20 World Cup. He became women’s national team head coach in 1994 and during his tenure guided the USA to gold at the first women’s Olympic tournament in 1996 and to the 1999 World Cup title. He coached the USA to the 2008 U-20 Women’s Cup title and served as head coach of WPS’s Boston Breakers in 2009-2011. He was commissioner of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2000-2003. DiCicco is the Founder and Technical Director of SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School and SoccerPlus FieldPlayer Academy. He’ll be serving as an analyst for Fox Sports during the 2015 Women's World Cup and for ESPN2 for the USA friendly at France Feb. 8.)

15 comments about "Tony DiCicco: 'We should be excellent in every position'".
  1. cony konstin, February 6, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.

    We need radical change. We need to get away from a coaching environment and become a playing environment. We need 300,000 futsal courts in our inner ciites and another 300,000 futsal courts in our suburbs. Our players are robots. We need magical players and that can only come from having players play 7 days a week, 3 to 5 hours a day, 365, no cost and no adult interference. The kids need a place that is theirs. Their own home. Their own sanctuary. Where they can experiment and take risk. Prime example skate parks. Is there a uefa A license coach teaching those kids how to do it. We need a REVOLUTION in the US and FUTSAL is our REVOLUTION!!!! Futsal can be our version of street soccer and our kids need it NOW!!!!!

  2. R2 Dad, February 6, 2015 at 11:23 a.m.

    "I hear people say the U.S. is just athletic. But would anybody say Mia Hamm was just athletic? Would anybody say Alex Morgan is just athletic?" Sorry, 2 anomalies in 20 years do not prove the system. If that was the case, we would have produced several 2-footed, world class defenders by now, wouldn't we have? Also, please name one coach that was fired/banned from our U systems because Janine Beckie was let go even though she was a potential star AND dual national. D'oh!

  3. Brian Something, February 6, 2015 at 11:40 a.m.

    American coaches train for hard work (or if they’re British coaches of US players: endeavour, work rate and commitment). We train them for physical fitness. We train them to rely on their speed, size and/or strength. We don’t train them for excellence. We train them to have the same dime a dozen qualities as millions of other players around the world. We train them to be competent. We train them to be ordinary. An excellent player might be small. An excellent player might be slow afoot (but quick athought). An excellent player might be physically average. He won’t get a chance in our system, more than likely, because he might not be the player to win you a state cup at U14. It’s easy to train players to be ordinary.

  4. K Hakim, February 6, 2015 at 12:05 p.m.

    The good question here is "is the Development Academy giving us players beyond what ODP might have given us?" This is US Soccer's failure at every level. Instead of trying to copy Europe's academy system (which does not work btw) we had a system in place that only needed a mass cultural philosophy change, and it was ODP. The Academy League and ECNL just pits amateur youth teams against each other as if this was the Champions League. Well, even Barcelona and Bayern Munich do not drive 4 hours for a single match each week and they are billionaire clubs. So why did US Soccer think it was smart for 80 clubs out of 9000 to hold all"" of America's talent (or at least hope) when none of these clubs had produced a world class player before? Why did US Soccer destroy the entire youth landscape, by making over 8920 clubs irrelevant, scattering them to create even more leagues? Why has US Soccer allowed any independent body claim national control of the youth game, when they are FIFA's represented governing body? No other country has a multitude of governing bodies for the game. So back to ODP. This program was already in all 55 State Associations. It had annual tryouts that reached many kids but kept many out of the program thereafter as local coaches made the selections. This was the flaw that needed changing. If ODP had been a fluid year round program where any player could try out at any time and be selected, then we could have an ODP League where state teams competed each month at tournament weekends. They would have their own bracket at Jefferson Cup, Disney, Surf Cup, Dallas Cup, PDA, etc..National, pro and college scouts would come look at these players in those competitive games. Regional ODP would be eliminated as a year round schedule of 30 games would lead to a national pool selection come June, with a July international event. The whole system would start again September after a August break. The main thing is to eliminate local coaches from the selection, and US Soccer would send out of state coaches to do the ID. However, all training would remain with the clubs so players do not have to drive hours for practice, missing school and homework and being shattered for their clubs on weekends. The clubs would become relevant all around the country because their rep would not be based on winning but rather how many of their players were selected for ODP and hence the national teams. Now you would have a measure of good coaching and environment in this country and totally overhaul the culture overnight as the only pyramid pathway to the top level. Coaches who evaluated poorly would be accountable and changed until the coaches with quality eyes for talent were finally in the system. No more politics, rather everyone working for the benefit of the national game. It is so ridiculous that such a simple concept of identifying players could not be passed through the bureaucracy and now we have a diluted and splintered mess.

  5. Lonaka K, February 6, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

    Tony, you make a lot of sence. The problem is we need people like you at the top level. US soccer as a whole needs a change in administration. Using the current old guard will only stall an take a longer time for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world especially on the boys side. On the girls side, we have to ask the question, why are we not dominant like we were when Tony and Ansine coached the girls. Did we let the rest of the world pass us by?

  6. Futsal nation, February 6, 2015 at 2:57 p.m.

    Amen HAKIM!!! The answer to your question is because of greed which leads to corruption. USSDA was started to eventually develop better players than what we had. Better players better results right?? More Euro signed players, More MLS Homegrown players, better youth National teams by now, right?? WRONG!! What we have now is every USSDA promoting only one thing. College placement!! Was there a need for a USSDA system to get kids to college??? I dont think there was.

  7. Chance Hall, February 6, 2015 at 4:34 p.m.

    Wow K Hakim, I think you hit the nail square on the head! "The good question here is "is the Development Academy giving us players beyond what ODP might have given us?" This is US Soccer's failure at every level. Instead of trying to copy Europe's academy system (which does not work btw) we had a system in place that only needed a mass cultural philosophy change, and it was ODP." I think that as it stands, the academy system is too expensive, and the wrong coaches are picking the players. ODP could have worked, but it turned into a "good old boy" coaches click. We have to get the US National coaches involved in selections for academies and ODP. Now let's talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room. US coaches still are stuck in the "BIGGER is BETTER" mode. When you look at the ODP teams it's easy to see that the bigger you are, the easier it is to get selected. Not faster, or better skilled, just taller or bigger! The other countries have left us in the dirt on this. And we have watched game after game where their faster and more skilled players have left our bigger and slower players behind watching them go to goal after goal. So what is the answer? Ask K Hakim. I think that's a good place to start. And I wholeheartedly agree that futsal is also a part of the answer.

  8. Chance Hall, February 6, 2015 at 4:46 p.m.

    Forgot my comments for girls soccer in the US. I keep asking the question about when academies or whatever is coming after ECNL is going to happen.. The answer is always vague, something like "it's coming", or "there will be a announcement soon". Really? Well, are we going to waste or lose another seven years waiting for girls soccer to move forward in this country?

  9. Futsal nation, February 6, 2015 at 11:56 p.m.

    Sideny, while I agree with you theory, bigger and faster is better when the skill and tecnical ability is there. I think USA teams have been picking smaller players now or at least more of them. Germany and Brazil proved that physival ability along with skill takes you over the top. Spain is great but Germany and Brazil matched their skill but takes them over with greater physical ability. I agree, look at skill first but dont ignore physical attributes that much. There are tall skilled players at young ages that are still uncoordinated due to their growth spurts that should not be ignored.

  10. R2 Dad, February 7, 2015 at 1:49 p.m.

    Good point, Hakim, but "all training would remain with the clubs" would just result in local coaches trying to fit a skilled player into their kick and run scheme. There are very few coaches who can/will teach possession, and fewer that can actually develop such a skilled player. Don't get me wrong, ECNL is still an abomination but it DOES act as a recruiting vehicle for college-bound girls and that's what parents are paying for. Terrible system for developing players but it makes the parents happy and they are living in a pay-to-play world.

  11. Futsal nation, February 7, 2015 at 5 p.m.

    R2, I do see more clubs trying to play posession in USA, especially at MLS Academy level. The problem is it's posession with no attack minded playing. Its almost like they dont care if they shoot on goal or mroe than the other team. Its how long they hold on to it. That sucks as much as kick and run. Its boring. Its mindless. Those posession teams kill the creative dribblers. they dont want them. That could possibly be worse for our youth than kick and run if you think about it. Germany took what Spain did but attacked more. Brazil has always had that. They just have been in a slump. We overthink everyhting and soccer is no exception.

  12. William Wang, February 7, 2015 at 6:23 p.m.

    Might not part of the problem be the very free substitution up through college? This is nowhere near the FIFA 3 subs per game with no reentry. I would like to get Mr. DiCicco's take on this. When players know that they will be out there for 45 minutes without a break, they are more interested in the ball doing more work and their legs less. I expect the coaches would feel the same way. Also, in college, the free substitution looks like it would concentrate talent in fewer institutions because elite players can expect playing time even if beaten out by another elite player at the same school.

  13. Sara P, February 8, 2015 at 4:54 p.m.

    Tony's not the answer, folks, he's part of the problem. The fact that he and Anson are on committees advising US Soccer explains part of why the youth program is absolutely broken and physical remains the top selection criteria. You ever hear Anson talk about college soccer? It's all about the physical and speed - "I put my girls out there and tell them to sprint until they can't sprint anymore then I sub them and do it all over again" or something to that effect. That's soccer? The US top to bottom, club to college, still relies almost exclusive on a direct, physical, athletic style of play. If you are not in the top third in a foot race, but have crazy feet, you won't get a look. This group, US coaches and advisors, will only give lip service to technical because they don't know how to spot it, develop it, nor how to use it on the field. Nothing will change until there is an overhaul at US Soccer.

  14. GA Soccer Forum, February 10, 2015 at 2:02 p.m.

    agree with scott. the US women should toy and play keep away with some of their opponents, its all about speed and physicality. i think that's why tobin struggles to fit in with the group, most technical player on the roster. US womens soccer is going down a bad road, girls that don't play ECNL are going to have a hard time getting recognized for college play.

  15. adam block, February 18, 2015 at 3:27 p.m.

    Completely agree for a very simple reason; most soccer parents don't have any true idea about how to play soccer or how their child actually needs to improve on the field. So when they watch and then give what they think is good constructive criticism afterwards they are actually hurting their child in the long run. It's good to support their child throughout their soccer career, but don't worry about things you don't actually know about.

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