TAMPA — Kyle Clinton can still recall the goal he scored against Winter Park in the 2006 Class 6A state semifinals.
Clinton, then an 18-year-old senior midfielder at Clearwater's Countryside High, was left unmarked on a two-on-one. Griffin Gilstrap slipped him a pass into the box, and Clinton slotted a shot into the net. The ninth-minute goal helped the Cougars win 1-0 and reach the final, which they won two days later.
"It wasn't that great of a goal," Clinton said. "But for the meaning of it, it was definitely a big-time goal in my career."
Jeff Attinella was Countryside's goalkeeper that day. But his favorite memory of that season was beating Gaither, ranked No. 1 nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, in the district final and region final. Attinella, then a 17-year-old junior, grew up with a lot of Gaither's starters.
Five years later, Clinton and Attinella have been reunited on the practice field for FC Tampa Bay.
Attinella signed a one-year deal with the second-division North American Soccer League club in February after a stellar career at USF.
He had tryouts with teams in Sweden and Portugal and was taken 14th overall by Real Salt Lake in January's Major League Soccer draft. But he never heard back from the European clubs, and in Salt Lake City, he was stuck behind three keepers.
"It's definitely been an interesting ride putting me back here in Tampa," Attinella said. "The frustrating thing for me was I got great feedback from all those places. But I guess the business side of it just didn't make sense for the teams. But I'm definitely happy to be back here. It's always nice to come home."
Attinella, 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, is very much in FC Tampa Bay's plans.
"We have two quality keepers," coach Ricky Hill said of Attinella and incumbent starter Daryl Sattler. "They're both No. 1s in my eyes. As it stands now, I'm just delighted to have a person of Jeff's ability joining Daryl."
Clinton was one of 13 players given a tryout during the preseason and is one of four still practicing, hoping to make it as a central defender.
"He's acquitted himself very, very well," Hill said. "We are looking to add personnel to the roster, and at the moment, Kyle is in one of the pole positions."
Clinton, whose father, Kevin, played goalie for the original Rowdies in the late 1970s and early '80s, went on to star at Francis Marion. A four-year starter from 2006-09, Clinton scored 29 goals and was a two-time All-Peach Belt Conference selection for the Division II school located in Florence, S.C.
In 2010, Clinton took a year off from playing to coach. He led the boys team at King's Academy High — also located in Florence — to its first undefeated regular season, conference and region titles and the state semifinals. Clinton also coached two youth club teams and will be an assistant for Francis Marion's women's team if he doesn't make FC Tampa Bay.
At 6 feet 4, 180 pounds, Clinton caught the eye of FC Tampa Bay executive vice president Perry Van Der Beck at a combine before the team's inaugural season last year.
"I just want to play and stay out of the real world and keep playing soccer as long as I can," Clinton said.
Attinella and Clinton will look to bolster a back line that at times let FC Tampa Bay down last season. The team gave up 46 goals in 30 games, including 28 over the final 12.
"I think it's a travesty that Jeff hasn't gotten as much recognition on the national level," said David Sica, who coached Attinella and Clinton at Countryside. "He has tremendous ability to make unbelievable saves, and he's a hard-working kid. Kyle is one of the most versatile players I've ever coached. He has a knack for putting himself in the right position to make the play that counts.
"I think it's a huge deal for (FC Tampa Bay) that they have talented players from the surrounding area on the team."