TAMPA — USF men's soccer coach George Kiefer has a geographically eclectic roster, with four Bulls from Trinidad and Tobago, three from Venezuela, two from Colombia and others from England and Peru.
But down the middle of his Big East champions, you'll find local players from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, proud to host an NCAA Tournament game on their homefield, at 7:30 tonight against Harvard.
"Everyone focuses on the international guys we have, but it's been a huge priority for us from Day 1 to get the top local guys," Kiefer said. "If you look, they're playing right up the middle of the team. That's the heart of the team."
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, a Countryside graduate, has 10 shutouts this season, and the Bulls start two locals in midfielders Fernando Gonzalez (Gaither) and Sebastien Thuriere (Seminole).
"I've known Sebastien and Fernando and (Wharton's) Ogi (Perucica) a long time from playing with them," Attinella said. "When we used to play club and high school, Florida was always tough competition, especially this area. Just to have people from this area on a team that's very diverse — a bunch of people from a bunch of countries — means a lot for this area."
The Bulls have played their best soccer at home this season, with no losses and only one tie at USF Soccer Stadium.
"Our fans, they give us an enormous boost of energy, and we always try harder to please them," Thuriere said. "And playing here, the temperature is a lot better for us. I'm sure up at Harvard right now it's cold."
Kiefer, who has another local in midfielder Santi Alexis (Jesuit), said the same climate that helps cultivate strong local players helps USF in recruiting.
"The soccer in Florida is one of the best states in the country, just because they can play year-round," Kiefer said. "If you look at the youth kids on national teams, they're loaded with Florida kids. To get the better local kids helps the program a lot."
Attinella typifies the team-first aspect of the Bulls — he's among the nation's leaders in goals-against average at 0.40 but passes the credit to his defense.
"They help out a lot. Yohance (Marshall) is just amazing," Attinella said. "Dre (Mittoo) and Javed (Mohammed) and Trey (Perry), we like to think we have one of the better defenses in the country. I don't normally face a lot of shots, and we broke the school shutout record, but a lot of it is because of them."
The Bulls (14-4-2) have drawn more than 1,000 fans seven times this season, with 2,192 attending an overtime win against Louisville in October. Even with students heading home for Thanksgiving, Kiefer hopes for a strong crowd tonight — with a win, the Bulls would stay home for a third-round game Saturday.
"The Tampa community has a great soccer history, so hopefully we can get them to come out (tonight)," Kiefer said. "The people in the community want to see local players out there, and I don't blame them. We're finally getting the better ones to stay home."