The last time the USA won a Women’s World Cup came in 1999 when Tony DiCicco served as head coach. DiCicco, who also guided the USA to the 1996 Olympic gold medal and the 2008 U-20 World Cup, is in Canada as a Fox television commentator. We asked him for his insight on the tournament so far.
SOCCER AMERICA: What has impressed you about the U.S. play?
TONY DICICCO: They’re very good defensively.
Jill Ellis has evolved this team into a top defensive team. Defense has won World Cups. I never thought Pia Sundhage got the defense right at the 2011 World Cup. They gave up seven goals in her last four games there.
This team here can win the World Cup even if we’re not scoring a lot.
SA: Where do you see a need for improvement from the USA?
TONY DICICCO: We’ve got to improve on our midfield play.
A lot of the key to scoring is midfield service. In the last game [1-0 win over Nigeria], Jill tweaked something. She balanced off Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, instead of Lloyd being kind of the designated attacking midfielder and Holiday being the designated holding midfielder. They shared that role. And that allowed Holiday to get forward a lot more. And Holiday, Jill has told me, is our best No. 10 player. She got forward a lot and although they didn’t necessarily reap the benefits, there were some good plays between her and the forwards.
There were a number of times when the ball went to Abby Wambach and they were laid off to Lloyd and the next was over-hit or intercepted – but the play was definitely in the right direction.
Balls into front-runners, lay it back, now maybe a through ball between the defense -- is the direction they need to go.
SA: How about the frontline? The last game was the first were Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach both started after different combinations in the first two games [3-1 win over Australia and 0-0 with Sweden]?
TONY DICICCO: Jill’s been playing with a two-front, which is her prerogative. But her combination of two-fronts, those two players don’t play with each other. They don’t combine with each other. I don’t even know if they know where each other are. They’re kind of like on islands.
I thought Alex Morgan and Wambach weren’t near their best. When they play their best together, they’re very impressive. But I saw glimpses of it.
The difference is Morgan looks for Wambach. Morgan reads balls going to Wambach’s head and is looking to run up behind her, like the one that was almost a goal right after the kickoff.
If they’re scoring comes around, they’re not going to be stopped. There’s no question in my mind. But that’s a big question because this team right now, I’m not sure they’re capable of doing what they did in the 2012 Olympic semifinal, coming back three times to end up winning, or coming back from a two-goal deficit.
But right now, as long as they keep playing defense like this -- they should because they played more difficult opponents in group play than they’ll see in the next two games -- they could win the World Cup with 1-0 wins.
SA: What do you think of the World Cup field having been expanded from 16 teams to 24?
TONY DICICCO: I think it’s great. There’s been a couple of blowouts. But look at Ivory Coast. They’re the last team to arrive in Canada. They’ve had little training and preparation games. They get blown out by Germany (10-0). But then they’re much better in their last games, like a 3-1 loss to Norway.
Thailand gets three points in their first World Cup ever. Ecuador had trouble, but then they only lost to Japan, 1-0, in their last group game.
If these teams get the opportunity or anywhere near the programming that European teams and the USA, Canada or some of the Asian teams have, they’re going to be fine.
Colombia’s upset of France I think was the biggest upset in Women’s World Cup history.
SA: Do you think the playing on artificial turf has had an impact on the tournament?
TONY DICICCO: I don’t think so. We were having a discussion on if artificial turf has leveled off the competition like a bad, bumpy field or a really wet messy field does. But I don’t think it has.
It’s unfortunate that the women are playing on it, but you adjust to it. I don’t believe there are fewer goals because it’s on synthetic surface.
The only thing that I might concede is that through-balls haven't been great throughout the tournament. Maybe they’re running away from their intended target because of the synthetic turf, I don’t know.
It’s unfortunate they’re playing on it, but I think the biggest effect is on the play in the heat of the day. It’s hot. That surface is hot. It can change the way players play when the surface is 125 degrees.
SA: Any other impressions you’ve had so far?
TONY DICICCO: I think it’s been a good tournament because no one has absolutely laid claim to it. The U.S. won its difficult group and now has an easier route to the semifinals. Germany had an easy group and a more difficult second-round route.
I think FIFA manipulated the tournament a little bit to try and help Canada. I think that’s wrong. I know why they did it, because they know Canada and the United States are the two big-ticket consumers, but I still think that’s wrong.
Germany went out at the quarterfinals in 2011 but they still sold a lot of tickets. Maybe Canada isn’t the same level soccer country. I still don’t think you should put the first- [USA], second- [Germany] and fourth- [France] ranked teams, at the time of the draw, on the same side of the bracket.
(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 serves as an analyst for Fox Sports at the 2015 Women's World Cup.)