Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Restrepo shines in net for Rowdies

TAMPA — The oft-repeated scene is one Rowdies coach Ricky Hill would just as soon never see again.

An opposing striker dribbles toward the goal with nothing but 6-foot goalkeeper Diego Restrepo between him and scoring.

The player shoots, Restrepo reacts and blocks the ball from going into the goal. Time after time in 2013, Restrepo has been asked to save the game after a mishap in the Rowdies defense.

Restrepo has been up to the challenge.

The Venezuelan-born, Colombian-raised keeper is the main reason the Rowdies are 3-0-5 during the NASL fall season — one point out of first place — and 5-0-5 over their past 10 games dating to the spring season.

"I'm not the biggest goalie in the world. But thankfully, throughout my career, I've been good at one-on-ones and reactions," Restrepo said. "I just embrace it. That's the time for me to show myself. I kind of get in that zone when the guy's coming towards me and have that attitude that this guy's not going to score."

In the 38th minute of Saturday's 3-1 win against Atlanta, Restrepo went low and to his right to stop Ruben Luna, making him 3-for-3 on penalty kicks this season (all competitions).

In the 82nd minute, with the Rowdies up 3-1 and the Silverbacks sending more players forward, Restrepo laid out to slap away Danny Barrera's point-blank 8-yard header, combining his fast-twitch reflexes and ability to predict the path of the shot.

"In the last two months, he really has kept us in the game," Hill said. "He has come into his own and looks very confident; looks very assured, not at all indecisive."

Restrepo, 25, is the latest in a line of top-notch keepers since Tampa Bay re-emerged in 2010. Daryl Sattler established himself as one of the league's best in the inaugural season before a knee injury sidelined him in 2011. Enter Jeff Attinella, a rookie from USF. In his second season, Attinella was named to the NASL Best XI and led the Rowdies to a league championship.

With Attinella's move to Major League Soccer during the offseason, Restrepo and Andrew Fontein battled for the starting spot. Restrepo took control in the fourth game of the spring season and hasn't come out, recording three shutouts in league play.

Rowdies goalkeeping coach Slobodan Janjus said Restrepo's work ethic elevated his play.

During practice, Janjus sets up obstacles. One drill has the keepers jumping over an 18-inch hurdle before a shot forces them to make a diving stop. In another, the keepers weave in and out between five cones with another hard shot awaiting them at the end. By the conclusion of the session, Restrepo is drenched in sweat and covered with bits of black rubber picked up from the artificial turf at Skyway Park.

"The way you practice is the way you play," Janjus said. "You have a bad practice, you're going to have a bad game. Diego never has a bad practice. He's like a tiger in goal; aggressive, confident, ready to pounce."

Sunday, Restrepo will be in net when the Rowdies play at first-place New York.

"Diego seems to be in his zone; not a comfort zone, but a nice zone where everything seems to be in slow motion for him," Hill said. "He's been tremendous."

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