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Jerry's World

U.S. women are heading into uncharted waters.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, November 5, 1999) -- The most successful program in United States Soccer is about to enter Phase III - and the waters are uncharted, with various scenarios possible.

First was the Era of Anson Dorrance, the famed North Carolina coach who led the Americans to the 1991 World Cup and posted a 65-22-5 (.734) record in 1986-94.

Second was the Era of Tony DiCicco, the former assistant who took over and exceeded his mark by going 103-8-8 (.899), highlighted by the 1998 Olympic gold medal and the 1999 World Cup.

His resignation this week leads to several questions:

1. Will there be a domino effect?

* Clive Charles resigning as Olympic men's coach to take over as women's coach.

* Bob Bradley resigning as Chicago Fire coach to become Olympic coach and chief assistant to men's national coach and overall development director Bruce Arena.

There has been speculation in the media about the switches, but nothing official. Time is fleeting, with the women's "B'' squad scheduled for training camp in December, and the Olympic men's team preparing for a key January trip to Portugal.

2. Will U.S. Soccer name one of the present assistant coaches, Lauren Gregg or Jay Hoffman, to guide a veteran women's team to a Last Hurrah in Australia next year in the Olympics before serious rebuilding begins for the 2003 World Cup -- and a permanent coach is selected?

3. Will U.S. Soccer go a different route, and bring in an entirely new face.

4. How much input will the players have? Morale is a big factor on women's teams. Many members said they appreciated DiCicco's style, described by one as "coaching us like men, treating us like women."

Rumors have circulated for months that Arena -- who already has brought in three new youth coaches - wants his own man in charge of the Olympic team. Charles was chief assistant to ousted men's coach Steve Sampson in 1997-98.

Other questions abound.

Would Charles want to leave Portland (Ore.) University, where he is an icon and a highly successful women's and men's coach? The school administration has granted him leeway in the past so he could handle national team duties -- the Olympics, for example, will occur during the college season - but national team women's coach is a full-time job.

Next year, three trips to Australia are planned as well as one apiece to Germany and Portugal -- in addition to an active home schedule.

What are the dimensions of the women's "share'' of Project 2010, and who will direct it?

The men already are under way in the Nike-aided U.S. Soccer development program, with a national scouting system, under-14 programs, and a couple of under-14 teams training and playing three games apiece in Mexico. Plans are to have elite players in under-14 and older groups in camps for 60 days a year, compared with 20 days now.

The women, who have lagged behind, finally have added an under-18 program to go with an active under-20 group and a modest under-16. A development camp for under-14s is planned for December.

Does Bradley want to leave Major League Soccer, where he has achieved a certain level of notoriety for winning the title last year -- though the Fire faces a rebuilding job due to its aging nucleus -- for eventually a No. 2 job?

The men's team, incidentally, is no sure bet to even make the Olympics. Just two nations from CONCACAF (North America-Caribbean-Central America) qualify. The United States has a bye to the six-team finals. And as long as it avoids a semifinal date with Mexico, the chances of going to Australia are moderately good. Providing there are no more injuries . . . with star forwards Josh Wolff and Chris Albright recovering now from serious knee injuries.

The women's team faces an inevitable letdown from the adulation before, during, and after the World Cup, though expect U.S. Soccer to promote the idea that an Olympics win would be beneficial to startup of a professional league in 2001.

Another question:

Does the rebuilding of the team start now? Is it time to give promising youngsters like midfielder Aly Wagner and forward Susan Bush a thorough crack at the lineup? As well as Sara Whalen on defense? However the situation is resolved, Tony DiCicco will be missed on the sidelines.

The coach realized early on, especially after the semifinal ouster in the 1995 World Cup, that the United States no longer could rely on superior physical ability. It had to get more tactical. And more versatile. He changed the way the Americans played -- it was still attack-oriented, but there was more concentration on keeping shape on defense.

He replaced a legend in Dorrance, and became one as well.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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