“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…