ST. PETERSBURG — The final in-game image from Tampa Bay's 2012 championship season — the first title for the reincarnated Rowdies and second overall for the franchise — saw goalkeeper Jeff Attinella dive to his left to block a penalty kick from Minnesota's Lucas Rodriguez, setting off a raucous celebration at sold-out Al Lang Stadium.
Attinella, a bay area soccer product born in Clearwater, trained at USF and later named to the NASL's Best XI, turned away three shots in that shootout against the Stars and was, perhaps, the deciding factor behind the Rowdies' historic season.
When Tampa Bay begins its title defense tonight, at home against Carolina, Attinella and his familiar orange-and-black goalkeeper shirt, inspired by Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, will be absent. The 24-year-old signed with MLS' Real Salt Lake during the offseason.
In his place, the Rowdies turn to two promising contenders: Andrew Fontein, a familiar yet inexperienced face as last year's backup to Attinella, and Diego Restrepo, a wild card with an interesting pedigree who was added late.
"There's not a great deal between them right now. They're both quality in their own way," coach Ricky Hill said. "They both have different strengths, so it's just a matter of who is on that basic, consistent form that will earn the right to start."
The Rowdies, minus only Attinella and J.P. Rodrigues, are intact from the 11 players who started that late-October final against the Stars. The expectation, then, is for the Rowdies to contend for the title again, so long as Fontein and Restrepo can collectively match Attinella's production between the posts.
"It's a little different knowing that I'm going to be playing in the games," said Fontein, 23. "It puts more pressure on you, but it keeps you focused. I've been enjoying it so far."
Fontein didn't play a minute with the Rowdies last year during his first professional season but showed enough ability during training to keep the team from panicking at Attinella's departure.
"The games we play behind closed doors and small-sided games, it wasn't as if Jeff was way above Andrew and Andrew was a weakness and a weak link so that his team would lose," Hill said. "On most occasions in fact, Andrew's team won over the balance of the season. So it shows that he was very adept and a good keeper."
Restrepo, who was born in Venezuela, signed with the Rowdies on March 20 after finishing the season as the first-team starter for Venezuelan side Deportivo Tachira. Restrepo, who also saw action in his pro rookie season for Colombian powerhouse America de Cali, started for USF as a freshman but was passed over for Attinella the following year and decided to transfer to Virginia, where he sparked the Cavaliers' 2009 NCAA title run.
"One thing I learned about playing in South America is that you don't worry about the extra things, you just try to do your own job and make it tough for the coach," said Restrepo, 25. "I think I've done that here. I think I've played well. It's up to the coach now."
Whomever Hill selects, the challenge for either keeper will be to make Rowdies fans forget Attinella.
Note: The Rowdies acquired midfielder Alex Dixon, 23, on loan from Houston of MLS.
No. Name Pos. Ht/Wt Hometown
15 Mike Ambersley F 5-9/155 St. Louis
3 Andres Arango D 6-1/175 Medellin, Colombia
4 Stuart Campbell M 5-10/148 Corby, England
5 Kyle Clinton M 6-4/180 Safety Harbor
25 Carl Cort F 6-4/172 London
9 Raphael Cox M 5-7/150 Tacoma, Wash.
21 Devin Del Do F 5-9/155 Valencia, Calif.
23 Alex Dixon M 5-8/150 Bay City, Texas
1 Andrew Fontein GK 6-1/190 Las Vegas
20 Evans Frimpong F/M 5-8/142 Accra, Ghana
6 Jordan Gafa D 5-10/165 San Diego
11 Shane Hill M 6-1/185 London
10 Georgi Hristov F 6-0/65 Plovdiv, Bulgaria
8 Luke Mulholland M 5-9/150 Preston, England
18 Jay Needham D 6-2/185 Fort Worth, Texas
24 Diego Restrepo GK 6-0/185 Merida, Venezuela
7 Frankie Sanfilippo D 5-10/165 San Diego
22 Keith Savage M 6-2/170 Gulf Breeze
2 Daniel Scott D 6-1/185 Maui, Hawaii
16 Amani Walker F 6-2/190 San Diego
14 Draymond Washington D 6-1/180 Potomac, Md.
32 Takuya Yamada D 5-11/180 Tokyo