Our Coach, Our Leader, Our Champion, Our Friend

I love my job!

I don’t even have to close my eyes to see Tony DiCicco walking onto the field with his arms stretched wide and his infectious smile growing wider with every step sharing his joy and appreciation for the opportunity to coach. Day after day, those were the first words we all heard from Tony DiCicco as he walked onto the field…any field, at any level from youth to the professional ranks. He wasn’t just successful, he was significant! Programs were better if Tony was involved. Teams were better if Tony coached.

And, people were better versions of themselves if Tony was part of your life. I reminded him often, as did every player, coach or staff member who was privileged enough to be caught in Tony’s light; he just made us all better. ...better coaches, better staff members, better players and better people. He saw our highest potential and our greatest possibilities in ways that we didn't YET see in ourselves.

Lisa Cole, Tony’s longtime Assistant Coach and staff member at Soccer Plus and the NSCAA Goalkeeping Academy commented that, “Whether it was a U10 player new to the game, a High School player hoping to make their first varsity team, a professional athlete or an Olympic and World Cup champion, to Tony DiCicco they were each treated with respect, enthusiasm and investment.” To paraphrase Goethe, “Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.” Tony’s true passion was people first and then the great game of soccer. He devoted his professional life to teaching, to positively impacting lives, to growing and developing the game and to ins pairing others to greatness (as teammates, as players and as people). As

                     Aux Contraire: Stay classy, Donald Trump.

These are comments and tweets, or whatever they’re called now that the platform is known as X, about the U.S. women’s national soccer team, which on Sunday, August 6, got knocked out of the Women’s World Cup by Sweden. It was the earliest exit ever for the U.S., which was trying to become the first team, men’s or women’s, to win three World Cups in a row.

What a bunch of losers.

Not the team. The people trashing the team, which has been the gold standard (literally, including four Olympic gold medals) for years. To someone who grew up cheering for U.S. teams in international sports — any U.S. team — this seems unthinkable, akin to pulling for Russia in a war or something.

Oh. Right.

 “I’m glad they lost.”

“I would root for Al Qaeda before I’d root for this American Women’s Soccer Team.”

“Let’s go Sweden!”

And, of course, the inimitable words of a former president: “WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!! MAGA.” 


                                              IN 2023 WORLD CUP 

Tom Byer is the Mr. Rogers of Japanese soccer. There’s nothing in America like him, and as both the Japanese  women prepare for the next round of the World Cup, it’s worth thinking about what the U.S. program could learn from Byer’s Japanese success.

Executives from the Shogakukan publishing company offered him a two-page panel in KoroKoro Komikku, Japan’s biggest children’s comic book. The United States has no equal to the cultural giant that is KoroKoro. The monthly comic book has an enormous circulation—Byer puts it at about 1.2 million (for comparison, in 1977, during its heyday, Mad magazine circulated 2,132,655 copies in the entire year, in a country that’s more than double the population of Japan) and a readership in the neighborhood of 3 million Japanese preteens. The magazine is hundreds of pages long and shares storylines with Japanese video games. It played a big role in transforming Kirby and Pokémon in to global media juggernauts.

Today, Japanese pros in men’s and women’s soccer credit Oha Suta and KoroKoro as key parts of their soccer education. Keisuke Honda watched the show, and Byer worked with Tadanari Lee as a boy. Byer’s most famous disciple is Shinji Kagawa, a midfielder at Manchester United renowned for his technical ability. Last year, a profile of Kagawa in one of the team’s match-day programs name-checked Byer and referenced his show and the comic.

Byer argues that his program is exportable to the United States. In some ways, in the U.S. it’d be easier to implement than in Japan: Soccer is already the No. 1 sport among American youth. The problem, according to Byer, is that the USSF and MLS “look at grass-roots football as an obligation, not an opportunity.” Why not put a small technique spot on the Disney Channel or Nick Jr.?  Kids would surely pay attention.

 Created by Wiel Coerver, a Dutch coach, the method is a quasi-academic system based on specific skill acquisition. Rather than putting kids on a field and having them chase the ball around—which is how most young kids practice across the United States—it teaches close ball control and situational, one-on-one moves: stopovers, feints, various ways to manipulate the ball with the sole of the foot. Tactics and passing come later, once the kids master ball control. In his book, “Soccer Starts at Home”, Beyer raised his own children with small soccer balls around the house and they were kicking and dribbling and constantly getting comfortable around the ball.

American soccer needs to find new coaches like Tony DiCicco and Tom Beyer and rejuvenate American soccer. With the players from Barcelona coming to MLS it is a start!

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