The International Player
Anna Picarelli shows off her American talent on the Italian national women’s soccer team.
Last November, Anna Picarelli (’06) faced one of the biggest challenges of her professional soccer career when the U.S. women’s national team took on the Italian women’s team in the World Cup qualifiers. The Southern California-raised goalkeeper had two goals of her own in mind during that early season game: showing the U.S. team what she was made of, and trying her best to ensure they lost the match to her team, the Italian women’s national team.
Picarelli and Italy both have her Italian-born father Angelo to thank for her career-making move to Europe. After the U.S. National Under-21 Team told her “flat out” that she was too short to play for her native-born country, Angelo reminded his 5’4” daughter that she was a dual national and could try out for an Italian side. “So I got a passport, found a team to play for in Italy, and moved to Verona,” Picarelli recalls.
She joined the Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica Calcio Femminile Bardolino (ASD CF Bardolino) in Verona, helping the club win the Italian National Cup in 2007 and 2009. Last fall she became a starter on the Italian national women’s team, with whom she faced off against her American peers in November.
The qualifying matches—at home in Italy and then away in America—inspired mixed emotions in the Italian American player. She was pleased the No. 1-ranked U.S. team qualified to compete in the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer in Germany, but she was equally pleased by making a number of vital saves for her No. 12-ranked team. “They were the best games for me; I was proud of my team and that the Americans got to see me play,” she says.
One person who has never doubted Picarelli’s ability is her Pepperdine coach Tim Ward. “I always joke that goalkeepers, by the very nature of their position, have to be a little ‘different’ because of the courage it takes to play that position. Anna definitely has that ‘different’ thing going for her, but in the best possible way,” he comments. “Regardless of her physical stature, Anna is hugely talented when it comes to heart, competitive juice, technique, work ethic, and all those other intangible qualities that coaches love in the players they coach.”
Picarelli arrived in the small town of Bardolino, near Verona, in the summer of 2006, fresh from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and from helping the Pepperdine women’s soccer team make its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. She began acclimating herself to different attitudes about sports among her teammates, all native Italians, and quickly began picking up the second language. “I had studied Italian in school, but it was a shock to not understand much or be understood,” she says. “But the team opened their arms to welcome me.”
She also adapted to the playing style in Italy, where the focus was placed on short bursts of strength in order to score goals. “The Italian playing style is less fitness oriented—they would rather you touch the ball than outrun it,” Picarelli notes. This style complements her skill set, since quality goalkeeping rests on the ability to think and act quickly.
After making some game-changing saves for ASD CF Bardolino all across Europe—including a Champions League match against the British team Arsenal—Italian national team coach Pietro Ghedin invited Picarelli to play for her adopted country beginning in October 2007. The opportunity marked a new phase in her professional and personal life, as her first, important game as starting keeper included an against-odds win against England in the Euro Cup (UEFA European Football Championship) qualifiers, followed by a surprise in the spectator stands.
“Everything went right. I was a vital player on the field, and my boyfriend had come to watch,” she remembers. “Right after the game I went to the stands to say hello and as soon as he said ‘congratulations,’ he proposed, and I accepted.”
Since then, Picarelli has returned to Southern California to get married and to play for Ajax America in Palos Verdes. As an ambassador of American talent in international soccer, she continues to fly the flag for both of her countries and quietly looks forward to facing off against the U.S. national team again in the future. “I’m hoping that my body can stay strong for the next four years so that Italy can qualify for the next World Cup—and win,” she concludes.