Anna Picarelli Featured by the Press-Telegram
Picarelli Experiencing Italy One Game at a Time
She is 23, and is living the dream so many young college graduates have, experiencing the customs and the relics and the charms of Europe.
She has been residing since the summer of 2006 in Bardolino, Italy, near Lake Garda, which is not that far from her place of employment, Verona.
It is in this ancient Roman city with the third largest amphitheater in Italy, the famous L'Arena - only Rome's Colosseum and the arena at Capua are bigger - that the 2002 St. Joseph High graduate, Anna Picarelli, performs the duties that result in her being given free room and board, a monthly salary, and two round-trip tickets a year to Los Angeles.
You must understand that the spry, engaging 5-foot-4, four-year starting soccer goalie for St. Joseph and then Pepperdine University is a member of the Callcio Femminile Verona team that plays matches in the Seriea League in Italy, the Champions League and the European Cup.
She has made the roster of the Italian National team that will play in the European Cup, with a qualifying match against Hungary set for Oct. 2.
You look at Ms. Picarelli with her thick, wavy brown hair, her bluish-green eyes and her striking appearance, and you'd more likely expect to see her emoting on the picture screen - think of a younger version of Jennifer Aniston - than blocking shots on the pitch.
She certainly isn't your classic goalie with her modest height, and she realized that such a shortcoming would prevent her from making the Under-21 U.S. National team that she practiced with for a short time in the spring of 2006.
"The coach of the Under-21 U.S. team, Jill Ellis, of UCLA is the one who encouraged me to try to play in Europe," related Picarelli the other evening at the Long Beach restaurant of her uncle, Joe Picarelli. "I researched it on the Internet, and called a few teams. When my father (Angelo Picarelli), who speaks perfect Italian, talked to the people from the Verona team, they told him they were searching for a goalie and were interested in me.
"That happened in July of 2006, and I was in Germany taking in the World Cup. I flew from Germany to Verona for a tryout, and they liked what they saw and signed me."
And Anna Picarelli's life ever since has been one compelling experience after another, as she has played in Seriea League matches and Champion League matches and European Cup matches - even in women's soccer there are endless levels of competitions - and has visited such countries as Portugal, Holland, Austria, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and England.
It was in the latter one during a Champions League encounter against Arsenal that ended in a 3-3 tie that she played so impressively that the coach of the Italian National team, Pietro Ghedin, invited her to join it.
She is the only American playing on it - she's the only female American playing professionally in Italy, period - although she does hold dual citizenship, since her father, Angelo Picarelli, is a native of Italy.
Anna Picarelli, who etched quite a reputation for herself on the soccer fields both at St. Joseph and Pepperdine, is the granddaughter of Mario and Maria Picarelli, who migrated from Calabria in 1966 and settled originally in Downey.
All four of their sons, Angelo, Joe, Frank and Dominic, were born in Italy, and two of them have become prominent restaurateurs in Long Beach, with Joe owning the establishment that bears his surname and Angelo owning Cirivello's Sports Stop.
While Anna Picarelli plays a lot of matches and attends a lot of practices, she also has a lot of spare time. She has used it to refine her skills in Italian cooking and also learning to play the guitar.
She couldn't speak a word of Italian when she began living in Verona two years ago, but now speaks the language fluently.
She has been playing soccer since she was 4 1/2, and was on various club teams in the Long Beach area before entering St. Joseph where she also was a setter on the volleyball team.
"I love the life I'm now living," she says. "Why wouldn't I? I'm playing a game I love in a historic country where I've seen so many great things. And it affords me the opportunity to travel all over Europe, as well as all over the world. I feel pretty blessed."
She tools around Verona in a Fiat Panda she bought, and the small, boxy-looking vehicle would never be mistaken for a luxury car.
"It's not the most comfortable automobile in the world, but it always gets me where I have to go," she says with a laugh.
She has an American boyfriend named Cameron Thomas, who has done visual effects work in several films and resides in Downey.
She is now on vacation, and doesn't have to return to Italy until Aug. 4, when her nine-month soccer grind will resume.
"My wife Marie and I can't believe how our daughter has been able to do the things she has done on her own so far away from home at such a young age," says Angelo Picarelli, who rises at 5 in the morning on the days of the Verona team's matches and listens to the broadcasts on the Internet. "We're just so proud of her."
Anna Picarelli admits women's soccer in Italy hasn't inspired anywhere near the frenzy of the men's game that long has been a national obsession.
"We'll walk into an airport with our soccer sweat suits with the Italian soccer emblems on them, and we're still always asked by Italian guys, `What do you ladies do?"' she says. "But I've notice that interest is growing in the women's game, although still quite slowly."
She doesn't know how long she will continue such an adventure, but she isn't any hurry to end it.
"As long as I stay healthy and as long as I retain my passion for soccer, I plan to keep playing it," she says. "I'm having too much fun to stop now. ..."