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Dec 15, 2007

A Roman holiday

When in Rome ... don't play futbol. For 10 days in early November, forwards Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley and midfielder Leslie Osborne relinquished their U.S. women's national team jerseys for Roma's maroon and orange kit. But don't think the trio will become devoted to fandom anytime soon -- they would rather stick to the pitch.

After coaching decisions left the U.S. women polarized following a third-place finish in China, a Roman holiday was in order. Michelangelo's statue of David might not be the FIFA World Cup trophy, but it wasn't a bad substitute for Ozzy, Tarp and Hao. Breakaway goals and flanking runs are no match for backpacking in Italy; the trio endured soccer riots while surviving midnight swims, enigmatic bike tours, endless pasta and vast quantities of espresso. A few days fresh off their trip, the three travelers gave us the lowdown:

The Game Plan: Italy or bust!

Leslie Osborne: I have always wanted to go to Italy, and I said if things didn't work out for us [in the World Cup], I would meet up with my college friends. Heather said she was in six months ago. Lindsay decided to come last minute, and we were excited that all three of us would be going.

Lindsay Tarpley: Heather was so organized -- she might be the next up-and-coming general manager for the national team. She bought this book by Rick Steves, and she made sure we saw everything. She even sent out a packing list so I didn't overpack. I had to roll all of my clothes and stuff them in, but I did it. My packing ways have changed because of this trip.

Heather O'Reilly: It was a big move for Tarp to come because she is getting married so soon [in two weeks]. But we thought of it as an extended bachelorette weekend.

Milan

Milan is a city that has a little something for everyone -- it is home to soccer powerhouses Inter and AC and emerging fashion mavens. With one of the largest sports centers in Italy, Milan's famous San Siro stadium is the spot to catch a game. Unfortunately for the trio, things didn't go quite according to plan.

LO: We met up with my friends over there in Milan and traveled the whole time with them. We were very spontaneous with our hotels and where and when we were going to each place. Nothing was planned; it was awesome. It was very unlike our usual schedules with the U.S. team, where we always know where we will be and when.

HO: We wanted to go to an AC Milan home game, got the tickets and were all excited, then we find out that the game got switched from a Sunday game to a Saturday game, so we missed it. They have flexible schedules for the Serie A. Who knew?

Lake Como

Home to the man who runs the "Ocean's Thirteen" crew, Lake Como is one of Italy's most romantic destinations. With lakeside villas dotting the surrounding hillsides, it's no wonder the trio favored this relaxing spot for ... bike rides?

LT: At Lake Como, we stayed in Bellagio, rode the ferry and taxi boat, and stayed at George Clooney's house -- just kidding!

HO: Tiffany Roberts [a Santa Clara alum] and I read about this downhill mountain bike ride that sounded neat, so we call the number from the brochure, and the guy says in broken English that he will come pick us up for the tour. An Italian gentleman named Luco comes to get us in this really old clunker of a car. We were a bit apprehensive, but Tiff (aka Bert) and I get into the car. At some point in the drive, I tap her on the shoulder and point to this huge ax that is in the backseat with me! We giggle but are definitely a bit nervous about what we have gotten ourselves into. We drive 15 minutes up this huge hill to the company's headquarters, which turns out just to be Luco's house. He goes in his backyard and pulls out these bikes from his shed. Didn't quite look like the brochure! Bert and I try to take this downhill mountain bike ride, but we kept losing the path -- we found ourselves in the middle of Nowhere, Italy. At one point, huge cows were blocking the path. It was so funny. The view was beautiful though; you could see all the way to the Swiss Alps.

LO: There was this great restaurant in Lake Como with the best cheese (and that is saying a lot!) with pizza, artichokes, pesto gnocchi. My favorite dish was the pesto gnocchi.

Venice

The "City of Bridges," Venice is one of the few metropolitan areas that can be traversed only by foot or water. This maritime city is known for its gondolas, which transport tourists through the vast network of canals around buildings constructed on woodpiles (locals travel by "vapporetti," or water buses).

LT: In Venice, we toured the Accademia, St. Mark's Square, St. Mark's Basilica Church, saw the Bridge of Sighs, went on a gondola ride and saw the Rialto Bridge.

HO: I loved Venice. It is such a unique city. No cars, or noise, and much different than my home of NYC. The best part about it was probably the gondola ride we took. Or maybe seeing Leslie in this huge pack of pigeons like a bird lady. The pigeons in Venice are crazy!

Florence

World-renowned for its art and architecture, Florence is the gateway to first-rate wine and food in Tuscany. Tourists generally outnumber the local population on any given day. Maybe it was the vino talking, but the trio was particularly smitten with one man ...

LT: We saw Michelangelo's David.

HO: It was absolutely incredible. No pictures do it justice.

Cinque Terre

Translating to English as "Five Towns", Cinque Terre is a region of five coastal villages. For those with the walking chops (namely the U.S. players), there is an option to forgo the line for the train, as hiking trails link the towns. But be wary: The 368-step climb at the end will turn the strongest legs to jello.

LO: Cinque Terra was one of my favorites. I want to get married there.

HO: We stayed at this gentleman's house, Manual, and his nephew, Lorenzo, who run the business. It was perfect because we got a sense of small-town Italy, not just the touristy stuff. We also went on a little midnight swim in the Adriatic, which was fun.

Rome

Saving the best for last, O'Reilly, Osborne and Tarpley made their way to Rome, Italy's capitol and seat of some of the greatest historical monuments in the world. Futbol is a religion here, especially with the epic rivalry between Serie A clubs Lazio and Roma. Lucky (or unlucky) enough to be in town for the "Super Bowl" game, the trifecta had to check out the main draw at Stadio Olympico ... until they got on the bus.

LT: In Rome, we did the Coliseum tour, the Vatican tour, walked the Spanish steps, saw the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain. The Capuchin crypt grossed me out. But the riot was the highlight, or maybe the lowlight, since we survived. We went on a wild-goose chase trying to find the tickets, but we found them and were so excited to go to the game. We decided to take the bus over the subway, which was a very good move. If we had taken the subway, we would have walked right into the riot. I was, of course, standing in the front of the bus because I get bus-sick. Les was in the first row, and Heather was a few rows behind.

LO: Tarp was like, "Look! Fireworks for the game!" But they weren't the kind of fireworks we thought they were.

LT: We were almost at the stadium and ready to get off the bus, but we pulled up to a four-way stop and we heard a police car coming from the left. As they were driving by, hundreds of people with black helmets, masks, shirts, pants, shields, etc., came rushing out from straight ahead of us. They were hiding in the street, and as soon as the cop drove by, they rushed the street, throwing tables, chairs, fireworks, bats, everything! Things were hitting our windshield. Our bus driver took a right and almost hit people, but started running red lights to get us out of there.

LO: I think he was going 70 miles per hour, but it felt like a 100.

LT: At that point, we didn't know about the shooting [Editor's note: A Lazio fan was shot and killed, and the game was canceled] or the other riots. We were very lucky to get out of there safely. Heather and I had Roma shirts on, and we quickly took those off just to be safe.

HO: They take soccer very seriously in Italy. One of the girls in the group we were with got in a very heated argument with a strong Italian supporter. I'm pretty sure the argument was about who loved soccer more. I had to come in and intervene.

Homecoming

The trio landed back in the States on Nov. 13, the same day Pia Sundhage was announced as the new U.S. women's head coach. The U.S. players' cell phones lit up with the news. Shock and excitement followed. "It was pretty funny, because before we took off, we were talking about not knowing who our coach was, and when we landed, we had a new coach and a camp in December," Tarpley said.

For now, these three can say "ciao" to a tumultuous year of globe-hopping. With their sights on the Olympics, O'Reilly, Tarpley and Osborne will have bigger things to worry about than jet lag come next year ... like, "Does Beijing have gnocchi?"

Lindsey Dolich is a contributor for ESPN The Magazine and covers the U.S. women's national team for ESPNsoccernet.