Former USF soccer standout Jeff Attinella wasn’t expecting to play so close to home, but is enjoying the opportunity to thrive in familiar surroundings with FC Tampa Bay.
Attinella, who is originally from Clearwater, was a four-year starter at goalkeeper for the Bulls from 2007 to 2010 and a key member of Bulls’ teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament all four seasons, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2008.
After graduation, Attinella departed for a trial period with Portugal’s Primeira Liga side Unio Desportiva de Leiria. He said the experience was good for him and the club, but for business reasons, it didn’t sign him to a full contract.
“Things didn’t work out in Portugal,” Attinella said. “I was supposed to go back for a trial, but it was something where they would have had to sell another goalie. It was just a whole lot of business stuff.”
Having played every minute of his final two seasons with USF and been named the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009, Attinella was one of five goalkeepers invited to participate in the Major League Soccer combine in Fort Lauderdale.
Attinella was selected by Real Salt Lake with the No. 14 pick in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft, but after spending two weeks training with Real Salt Lake, he learned he wouldn’t be signed because of the team’s depth at the goalkeeper position.
“I went there, but they had three roster goalies, three contracted goalies and it just wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t meant for me to be there, I guess, but everything happens for a reason,” Attinella said.
He then returned home and signed with FC Tampa Bay, a second-year team that plays in the North American Soccer League, the U.S.’s second-division professional league.
Attinella said he relishes the chance to play in front of friends and family.
“I like it. I’m around all of my friends. I’m close to USF, so I can go watch them play. It’s definitely better than being in some random spot where I don’t know anybody,” he said. “I’m happy to be back here.”
The team has been practicing for three weeks, but Attinella said he is adjusting well to his new role as a professional and values the opportunity to work with veteran Daryl Sattler, who started 24 games for FC Tampa Bay last year.
“(Sattler’s) been very helpful. He’s been teaching me the ways to do things from a professional level instead of being in college,” Attinella said. “It’s different (at this level). This is your job here. It’s still fun. It’s still playing the game that you love, but you’ve gotta make sure that you take care of yourself and that you’re doing things the right way because at the end of the day, this is your job.
“They’re judging your performance every day because you’re their employee. You can’t really ask for a better job than this.”
FC Tampa Bay’s first-year coach, Ricky Hill, said he has been impressed by Attinella’s ability and maturity during the preseason.
“I’ve been absolutely delighted with Jeff,” he said. “It’s hard to believe he’s coming out of college and straight into a professional environment in his first season. Everything about him suggests he’s a quality keeper.”
Hill is happy to have two goalkeepers on the roster that are capable of starting.
“I wouldn’t say (Jeff’s) a No. 2 currently. We have two quality keepers. They’re both No. 1s in my eyes, but obviously, only one can play. I’m just delighted to have a person of Jeff’s ability joining Daryl … that bodes well for the club.”
Attinella will have a chance to face his former team when FC Tampa Bay plays USF in its final preseason tuneup April 3.
FC Tampa Bay begins its regular-season schedule at home against the Montreal Impact at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg on April 9.