ST. PETERSBURG — When Jeff Attinella starred in goal for Countryside High, he helped lead the Cougars to a state championship in 2006.
After four years as the goalkeeper at USF — three as a starter — Attinella guided the Bulls to four consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament while earning first-team All-America status as a junior.
In his second professional season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Attinella was selected to the NASL Best XI all-star team and placed second in league MVP voting.
And tonight, Attinella starts in goal for the Rowdies as they go for a second NASL Soccer Bowl trophy to place alongside the one the original team won in 1975 in its inaugural season.
Wherever Attinella goes, it seems, success follows quickly.
Thing is, he hasn't had to go very far to find success.
"To be able to say that everything that I've gotten and everything that has happened for me has happened in (Tampa Bay) has just been great," said Attinella, who also played as a youth with the Clearwater Chargers and credits that team's goalkeepers coach, former Rowdie Kevin Clinton, for his success.
Attinella is as local as a local product can get. Every significant soccer moment in the 24-year-old Clearwater native's career has come while wearing the jersey of a Tampa Bay area team.
He's also a proud supporter of the area's other pro franchises. A self-proclaimed diehard Rays fan, Attinella has a hidden tattoo on the inside of his lower lip to prove it, the result of a middle school pact with his brother to get ink if the team made the World Series.
Attinella has held season tickets for the Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning. He watched from the Tropicana Field stands as Evan Longoria homered twice in the 2008 AL Division Series against Chicago. He was there a couple of weeks later, too, going delirious (and perhaps regretting that earlier bet) when the Rays won the pennant by beating Boston in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Now, Attinella gets to experience the other side of that fandom.
"We definitely have an uphill battle but to give people that type of memory and give myself a memory and something this (area) will never forget and say that I was an actual physical part of it, not just in the stands, would be huge," he said. "It was my goal when I signed here to win a championship and win a championship in Tampa. Hopefully I can do my part … and the boys can get it done."
Last year, Attinella was forced into a starting role four games into his rookie season after incumbent Daryl Sattler sustained a season-ending knee injury. That could have derailed the Rowdies' season; instead Attinella blossomed, recording five shutouts and a league-high 128 saves to lead the Rowdies to a third-place finish.
"I know in preseason, (coach) Ricky (Hill) kind of looked at it like we have two starting goalkeepers," Rowdies owner and president Andrew Nestor said. "When Daryl went down, we felt pretty confident that Jeff would do well, and, thankfully, he followed through on that. … (A quality goalkeeper) is not easy to find once the season has started."
In his second pro season, Attinella has edged Sattler, now playing for San Antonio, for the league's top keeper distinction. He recorded 11 clean sheets in league action while playing every minute for the Rowdies.
"He's been awesome for us," defender and team captain Frankie Sanfilippo said. "You can definitely tell from last year to this year he's made a huge difference."
The Rowdies must overcome a two-goal deficit in tonight's second leg of the NASL final after a 2-0 loss at Minnesota in last Saturday's first leg. Attinella, who signed a two-year deal before the 2011 season, will no longer be under contract after the match. The Rowdies' front office and coaching staff have expressed a strong desire to hold onto him.
The team — and the Tampa Bay area — might no longer be big enough, though, to contain Attinella.
"If I'm awarded the opportunity (to move up) at the end of the season, it is going to be bittersweet because I love it here," Attinella said. "This is where I'm from. This is where I live."