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Sunday, August 5, 2012
Schedule keeps families on move

By Alyssa Roenigk
ESPN.com

NEWCASTLE, England -- Early mornings. Late nights. Constant travel. The soccer schedule at the London Olympics is stressful.

And that's just for the families.

For the past two weeks, the U.S. women's soccer team has traveled throughout the United Kingdom, playing four games in four stadiums and three cities in 11 days.

On Monday, the team returns to Manchester to play its fifth game in two weeks, a semifinal match against Canada. One more win and the 18 members of Team USA will be into the final at Wembley Stadium, the first game the squad will play in London. And the U.S. women's flock of family and friends will be right there with them, after collecting hundreds of hotel points and logging thousands of miles by planes, trains and rental cars.

Christie Rampone
Christie Rampone's daughters, Reece and Rylie, are part of the U.S. women's soccer contingent in the UK.

"It's a little like the 'Amazing Race,'" said Chris Rampone, husband of team captain Christie Rampone, who is playing in her fourth Olympics. The Rampones had their second daughter, Reece, in 2010, which means Chris is following his wife's play while juggling the sleeping, eating and sightseeing schedules of a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old. "It's a different and more emotional experience than in the years past. There's obviously a lot of pressure to get to every game on time, but this is such a cool country, we're enjoying seeing so many cities."

In 2008, Lauren Cheney was a late addition to the team after an injury sidelined Abby Wambach for the Games. This year, her family wasn't about to miss out on their chance to see her compete at the Olympics, no matter how many hotels they had to book.

"We've dubbed this 'National Lampoon's Family Vacation,'" Cheney's mom, Rita, said. All in all, 15 Cheney supporters traveled to the UK for the duration of the nearly three-week tournament. "It's been six months in the making. We started planning once the team qualified for the Olympics, but then we had to wait to see if she got on the team."

While most Olympic families had the luxury of booking one round-trip plane ticket per person and a hotel stay in one city, the families of the women's soccer team organized itineraries that would spin the heads of most travel agents.

Heather O'Reilly's husband, Dave Werry, spent weeks arranging itineraries for himself and his mom, as well as Shannon Boxx's husband, Sean Taketa, and Heather Mitts' husband, NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley. In order to take in more of the country, and play a few rounds of golf, their quartet decided to travel by car. "It's been great," Werry said. "We just show up where we need to be, when we need to be there." In between, they're basically on summer vacation.

Because the Olympics falls during the start of NFL training camp, this is the first time in his wife's three trips to the Olympics that Feeley has been able to watch Mitts play in person in the Games. Although he spent the 2011 season, his 11th in the NFL, with St. Louis, he has yet to sign with a team for 2012. "It's been a lot of fun to watch her play," he said. "The games are all great, but of course I get more into it when my wife is on the field. I always get nervous watching."

The day the team was announced -- and not a day sooner, says Alex Morgan's mom, Pam -- the Morgan family started planning their 18-day trip. "It's been a rotation," Pam said. "From day one, there have been seven of us at any given time." When one family member leaves the country, mom calls for a sub. On game day, Pam, her husband Mike and Alex's two sisters dress in their game uniforms -- red-and-white-striped U.S. jerseys with Morgan's name and number on the back and "Mom," "Dad" or "Sister" on the front in gold lettering -- and meet for breakfast.

"Then, for about two hours before we leave, I'm nervous, pacing all around," Pam said. "I'm a basket case." Mom likes to arrive 45 minutes before game time. Dad likes to be in his seat with two hours to spare. Once they meet up in their seats, they're some of the loudest cheerleaders in the stadium. "In soccer, they say the World Cup is the most important. But as Americans, the Olympics is the epitome of sports," Mike said. "It's a dream come true."

Judy and Peter Wambach flew in to Newcastle to see their daughter, Abby, play her quarterfinal match at St. James Park, around noon on game day. After shadowing the team through two opening matches in Glasgow and one group play game in Manchester, they flew to Paris for a short vacation. From Newcastle, they return to Manchester with the team before -- fingers crossed -- taking a train to London. "This is a great schedule if you're adventurous," Judy said. "But we still have yet to get the flavor of the Olympics. That's what we're most excited about. We can't wait to get to Wembley."

Neither can the players.