EDMONTON, Alberta - Tony DiCicco, the last coach to lead the United States to a Women's World Cup title, has had an up-close view of the current U.S. squad and its strengths and flaws.
While it has been 16 years since he guided the Americans to women's soccer's biggest prize, the Fox color analyst remains connected to the game and said he sees a potential title winner if those flaws can be addressed.
Let's start with the good news.
"This team has a championship-level defense," DiCicco said, offering particular praise for center-back Julie Johnston and left back Meghan Klingenberg.
Johnston has been hailed by many observers as the Americans' best player in the World Cup. DiCicco called her "phenomenal," especially because she has been "very comfortable with the ball."
Klingenberg's leaping, goal-line clearance to preserve the scoreless draw against Sweden stirred memories of a similar play by Kristine Lilly in the 1999 World Cup final victory at the Rose Bowl. DiCicco had a front-row seat for Lilly's heroics and saw Klingenberg's play in the same light.
"Klingenberg saved the Sweden game by just being fundamentally perfect doing her job," DiCicco said. "You'd be surprised at how often people don't do their job. Kristine Lilly in '99 did her job."
So, what about the bad news? DiCicco sees some specific flaws in the attack that he believes can be fixed.
Most glaring for DiCicco is a lack of quality service from the center of midfield to the front line. Among the reasons: Creator Lauren Holiday has played a more defensive role, while do-it-all Carli Lloyd has gone forward more.
Against Nigeria, U.S. coach Jill Ellis gave Holiday more attacking freedom than she had in previous games. Even though the Americans scored only one goal, DiCicco saw a clear improvement.
"Jill Ellis has told me that she knows her best No. 10 is Lauren Holiday," he said, referring to the classic playmaker's jersey number. "She hasn't played her there."
Any discussion of tactics puts the spotlight on Ellis, who has no shortage of critics among the American team's fans. DiCicco has his share of issues with Ellis, too, but he knows his place is only as an outside observer.
"The bottom line is that Jill Ellis has to coach this team in her vision," DiCicco said. "She got through group play [and] won the group."
Alex Morgan's return to full health could be the final catalyst for producing not just wins, but style. She has the skills to deliver goals and strong chemistry with fellow star striker Abby Wambach. If the United States is able to score early against Colombia, the floodgates might finally open.
"Scoring is contagious, and it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy," DiCicco said.
Add that to the stout defense - including three strong performances by goalkeeper Hope Solo - and DiCicco concluded that this team has what it takes to end the World Cup title drought.
"With Hope and everybody being pretty focused in that back five, that makes the U.S. very dangerous," he said. "If their attack becomes unglued, I don't think they can be stopped."