Eight years ago, they were high school rivals. The precocious upstart out of St. Petersburg against the battle-tested champion from Clearwater.
For one season, Zac MacMath, then a freshman, played goalkeeper at St. Petersburg High before transferring to Bradenton Academy as part of the U.S. national team residency program.
The local team to beat was Countryside High, ranked No. 1 in the nation, coming off its second state title and led by Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County player of the year Jeff Attinella, a senior keeper.
Those early meetings did not end well for the newcomer.
"(Countryside) won a lot of games," MacMath recalled. "We probably played two or three times and lost two or three times."
MacMath and Attinella have traveled divergent paths to reach the same goal: playing professionally in Major League Soccer, which begins its 19th season today.
MacMath took the fast track. After competing with the under-17 team at the FIFA World Cup, the St. Petersburg native entered college early, earning an NCAA national title (2008) and numerous accolades during his three seasons at Maryland before being taken by the Philadelphia Union with the fifth selection of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
When Philadelphia opens against the Portland Timbers, MacMath will be the starter in goal, his third season as the Union's everyday goalkeeper and a league veteran at just 22.
"I knew from an early age I wanted to be a professional soccer player," MacMath said. "MLS was a goal of mine from the beginning."
MacMath took over as Philadelphia's full-time goalie at age 20. Last season, he started all 34 games and posted 12 shutouts to lead the Union to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just missing a spot in the postseason.
"The goal this year is to make the playoffs as a starting goalkeeper," MacMath said. "We were there my first season when I was a backup. The playoffs are always the goal when you're a professional."
Attinella took a slightly longer journey.
After starring at Countryside and at USF, where he was the Big East Conference goalie of the year as a junior, Attinella was selected with the 14th pick of the 2011 MLS supplemental draft by Real Salt Lake but released a month later.
Signed locally by the Tampa Bay Rowdies (then FC Tampa Bay) of the North American Soccer League, Attinella was a backup until an injury to starter Daryl Sattler a month into the season forced the rookie into duty. Attinella starred, taking Tampa Bay to the NASL quarterfinals. A year later, Attinella played all 32 games and finished second in league MVP voting while leading the Rowdies to the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl Championship.
Attinella signed again with Real Salt Lake two months later. Now 25, he is No. 2 behind U.S. national team goalie Nick Rimando when the Claret-and-Cobalt open today against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I'm in the position where I'm backing up the third-best American goalkeeper, according to (U.S. national team coach) Jurgen Klinsmann," said Attinella, who made four starts and five appearances subbing for Rimando and Josh Saunders as a MLS rookie. "I watch (Rimando) as much as I can and take mental notes to see things that top-level goalkeepers do. When he goes to the World Cup this year, I'll be ready to step in and not miss a beat."
Former Rowdies goalkeeper (1980-82, 1988) and current Clearwater Chargers director of goalkeeping Kevin Clinton had a hand in developing MacMath and Attinella as youngsters on the Chargers club team, and he believes both could one day suit up for the U.S. national team.
"My future dream is to see them competing for the same starting position," said Clinton, a computer engineer by trade and soccer coach at nights. "I think both have a real shot."
That two Pinellas County products could even be in a position to play in a World Cup speaks volumes to the talent produced locally.
"There are a lot of good players in the Tampa Bay area," Clinton said. "It's a hotbed, really."