ST. PETERSBURG - Aside from winning a championship or watching an athlete overcome adversity, no other sport story resonates with fans like that of “local kid starts for the hometown team.”
For FC Tampa Bay’s Jeff Attinella, that too-good-to-be-true story is about to become a reality.
Attinella, a graduate of and the University of South Florida, is about to live every kid’s dream.
The club just lost starting keeper Daryl Sattler for the rest of the season, due to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Instead of learning the ropes from Sattler while sitting on the sidelines, Attinella will make his first professional start Saturday night at Al Lang Field against the Carolina Railhawks.
"It’s unfortunate what happened to Daryl… but I’m obviously excited. It’s an opportunity that I truthfully didn’t think I would get this year," Attinella said after practice Thursday afternoon.
"I’ve grown up a huge Tampa fan my entire life, no matter what sport it is. To think that I get to play professionally for a Tampa Bay team… It’s awesome."
Attinella enjoyed a stellar career at Countryside, where he won a state title in 2005 and led the team to a No. 1 national ranking in 2006. At USF, he was named the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009 and set the school record for shutouts in a season (11) and a career (28).
Attinella thought he would be a top draft pick for a Major League Soccer team. But after getting selected by Real Salt Lake, he found himself in a logjam in net and wound up signing with FC Tampa Bay last February; he calls the move the best thing that could have happened to him.
"I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t have ended up anywhere better."
Despite being a top player at every level, the transition from college star to capable pro will require some work. Luckily for Attinella, he’s got the full support of his coach and teammates.
"He’s familiar with the players, the structure…so that should make the transition a little bit easier," head coach Ricky Hill said.
"Obviously there comes the added things now with professional football as opposed to college. But he’s a very good keeper… All he needs to do is to go out there and focus on his game."
Meanwhile Sattler, a 30-year-old veteran of eight professional seasons, has been extremely positive and supportive of Attinella during what could have been a difficult transition period.
"We call it the (goal)keeper union, keepers stick together," Sattler said on Thursday. "I’m gonna be there to push him and encourage him, and give him advice if he needs it. He’s got a great opportunity and he’ll do well with it. He’s ready."
With all the excitement swirling around Attinella as he prepares to make his first start, there is only one thing, other than a victory on Saturday, that he would like to come out of all of this sudden celebrity.
"I’m trying to get to throw out the first pitch at a Rays game," he said.
Spoken like a true hometown boy.