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MLS coaching carousel about to begin; will DiCicco be added to the mix?

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, November 4, 1999) -- The announcement by United States women's national team coach 's national team coach Tony DiCicco that he would not renew his contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation and coach the women in the Sydney Olympics, may end up solving several coaching questions.

But, as I often do, let me digress a moment. DiCicco's decision to give up the reigns of the women's team so he could be with his family in Connecticut, rather than at the residence camp in Florida and on the road, is not a complete surprise. I personally think that DiCicco was shabbily treated by U.S. Soccer after the Women's World Cup. Basically he did everything asked of him and more. Under difficult circumstances, trying to play a barnstorming schedule while being the chief public relations and media spokespersons for the entire event, the U.S. women managed to go undefeated and take the crown.

It turned out to be an unexpected marketing bonanza for U.S. Soccer, one it was not expecting or equipped to handle. The Federation tried to cash in by quickly scheduling a series of income-producing exhibitions and the Women's U.S. Cup. Dollar signs clearly showed in their eyes. But instead of the docile women they had experienced in the past, ones who were deeply appreciative of any crumb, what U.S. Soccer now found were a group of world-wise players who demanded their fair share.

Various people at U.S. Soccer were outraged at the "ingrates" and blamed DiCicco for not forcing the players back in line. So the word started to spread, DiCicco (and more than a few of his players) were more trouble than they were worth, and they might not be around much longer. This got DiCicco's dander up. He had been playing hard to get. Now he started lobbying for the job and U.S. Soccer president Bob Contiguglia finally offered to renew his contract for another year. But the offer was clearly made grudgingly, and got DiCicco thinking did he want to leave his family for another year. He decided he did not.

But the opening on the women's team now may solve what some people in U.S. Soccer has privately been referring to as the "Clive problem." This gets a bit complicated. It is well-known that men's national team coach Bruce Arena has an open-ended offer to Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley to join him as chief assistant on the national team, the same role he had with Arena on Major League Soccer's D.C. United, a sort of co-head coach. But that alone would not be enough to keep Bradley really busy, so the thought was it would be perfect if he could take over as head coach of the men's Olympic (under-23) team. This would keep him very busy through the summer and the start of World Cup qualifying.

But the Olympic team is now coached by Clive Charles, who also heads the men's and women's soccer programs at University of Portland. Everybody likes Charles, and he seems to be doing a decent enough job with the Olympians. No one seems to have wanted to push him out. But now with the women's job open, it might be the perfect solution. Clive Charles becomes women's national team coach and Bob Bradley takes over the Olympic program and assists Bruce Arena.

Back to Tony DiCicco for a moment. His statement has been that he is leaving the women's national team to be with his family, not that he is leaving coaching. It should probably not go without notice that DiCicco and family live about equal distance from both the New Jersey Meadowlands and Foxboro Stadium, homes of the MetroStars and New England Revolution, respectively. The MetroStars and the Revolution certainly could do a lot worse.

Memo to Sunil Gulati - give Tony a call when you get back from New Zealand with the U.S. under-17s. Right now there are two head coaching jobs open in MLS -- the MetroStars and the Revolution. If Bob Bradley leaves Chicago, and that clearly is an possibility now, there will be three vacancies. If you listen to rumors circulating around MLS, there could also be coaching vacancies in both Miami and Colorado.

Now, add to that something that we have heard. It was announced a few weeks ago that Columbus head coach Tom Fitzgerald had agreed to a two-year extension to his present contract. Now we understand it might not be a done deal, and that the two sides are not in total agreement over the fine print. If Columbus does not make it to MLS Cup '99, there might be yet another coaching opening and Fitzgerald might become a candidate for one of the other jobs.

Which brings us to the question of who might be in line for these vacancies. Most of the teams say what they are looking for is an American or someone who knows the American game and players intimately. But at the same time he should also be familiar with the international game and have a wide network of contacts, especially in Latin America. On top of this, it would be very nice for PR and marketing purposes if he spoke good Spanish.

Doesn't that sound a awfully lot like Steve Sampson's resume. Steve Sampson -- you remember him. Regardless of what you think of his World Cup debacle, he is a very talented coach who would seem to have almost every attribute that MLS's owners purport to want.

Don't be too surprises if Steve Sampson finds himself at the helm of an MLS team next year.

Robert Wagman’s "It Seems To Me . . ." column appears weekly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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