Baltimore becomes whistle stop

Nation's coaches gather for 4 days of convention

January 13, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Tony DiCicco, still adjusting to life as a soccer guru, was patiently sharing his views on matters such as the future of the women's game, his famous players' strike over $2,000 a month and being dad to four sons instead of suitcase dweller.

"Aren't you going to ask me about the convention?" he finally interjected from his home in Connecticut.

Sure, coach.

The National Soccer Coaches Association of America opens its 53rd convention in Baltimore today, and DiCicco will be in town -- as a coach apart. Convention organizers expect 5,000 to register, but only DiCicco has led teams to an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup. Truth is, he's the only U.S. coach to accomplish either.

The one-time goalkeeper who in five years guided the U.S. women's national team from obscurity to a 103-8-8 record and a World Cup title watched by 40 million worldwide will recap last summer's victory tomorrow and lead a Saturday clinic about linking midfielders and forwards.

He's also on the dais for a breakfast session and a dinner. In between, he and his oldest son have a couple of college visits scheduled.

And, you're correct, coach, this convention of an organization that two Maryland college coaching legends -- Towson's Donald I. Minnegan and Navy's Glenn Warner -- helped found has other "name" clinicians, too.

Some flocking to the Convention Center will be entertained by D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen's remembrances of winning Major League Soccer's title, the 1999 MLS Cup.

Jerry Yeagley will hold court -- his Indiana Hoosiers "only" won their second straight NCAA Division I men's championship in December.

Women's game pioneer April Heinrichs, the former Maryland coach now at Virginia, will be one of several talking about psychology and the game.

Juergen Klinsmann will do a skills clinic at midday tomorrow. He's that lanky, flair-for-the-dramatic German captain who earned millions as a striker for, variously, AS Monaco, Italy's Inter-Milan, England's Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich and, in the 1990s, in three World Cups before retiring to Southern California.

Most will recognize Kristine Lilly, recent Wheaties cover girl and world-champion U.S. midfielder whose late, unforgettable header off the goal line July 10 prevented the third Women's World Cup from residing in Beijing.

But any article about DiCicco would be incomplete if it contained just stuff about his latest work and not his opinions.

So, here's how DiCicco, who said he's focusing now as a consultant on starting a professional league for women in 2001, sees some of the game's hottest issues.

The next U.S. women's coach: DiCicco favors his longtime assistant, Lauren Gregg, "because better than anyone, she knows the team, the opponents and the under-21s," some of whom are likely to make the Olympic squad.

"But I will support whoever they choose 100 percent. Every day without a coach is not just a day lost; with the Olympics only eight months away, it compounds."

The ugly contract standoff between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Women's World Cup title stars: "Some people who are influential in the game, not necessarily in the federation, feel that we should just take our future team to the Olympics and start to prepare them for the 2003 World Cup.

"That makes no sense, whatever. You take your best team, and you try to win the Olympics."

DiCicco said the dispute will be resolved in time for many World Cup veterans to regain their national-team jobs, "because for many of them, Sydney will be their last appearance at the international level.

"I feel badly for them because of what they have accomplished. But the other side is, as a coach, you know this is an opportunity for some younger players to be seen."

The Olympics' importance: "We have a world-championship team that's fully capable of winning in Sydney, but it'll be difficult. Can we throw that away to start rebuilding for the next World Cup, when we're not sure about how big that will be?

"The one-two punch of [winning] last summer and this year can be incredible for the sport in this country.

"With NBC televising every minute of competition this time, it could be bigger than the World Cup last summer. And that would elevate the game to another level that would help the men, the women, boys, girls -- every aspect of the game."

A pro league for women: Three business plans are being discussed, he said, two with MLS participation and the other a stand-alone league. DiCicco favors the latter.

"If MLS was an NBA with incredibly deep pockets, that would be more viable," he said. "But they're working through their own challenges, and it's not the best time for them to deal with this."

NSCAA event

What: 53rd annual convention of organization of American soccer coaches at all levels, from youth through professional. About 5,000 are expected.

When: Today through Sunday.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center.

Public access: Members only, but $75 gets youth coaches access to sessions and clinics tomorrowand Saturday, as well as to 150 vendors and Saturday's High School Coaches Breakfast.

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