ST. PETERSBURG — When Rowdies coach Ricky Hill fills out his starting lineup for tonight's game at Al Lang Field against last-place Atlanta, the task will take a little longer than usual.
Frankie Sanfilippo has been a fixture at right back, playing every minute of the 26 games, including two in the U.S. Open Cup. (Among the Rowdies, only defender Takuya Yamada and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella also have played every minute.)
But tonight, the 30-year-old native of San Diego will not play as he serves a one-game suspension after accumulating his fifth yellow card of the season during a 3-0 victory at Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 1.
For Hill, it will be difficult to find a substitute with the work rate and consistency of Sanfilippo.
"Frankie has an inner-built mechanism, a drive in regards to that … never-give-in mentality (that) he's brought to the club from Day 1," Hill said. "He's quiet in his nature on the football field. He's not a demander from other people, but he's a definite leader by example."
Sanfilippo starred at San Jose State and stayed there to get his degree after San Jose took him in the sixth round of the 2003 MLS draft. He began his pro career in 2004 in Syracuse, N.Y., and has spent time in Rochester, N.Y. (2005-06 and 2010), Carolina (2007-08) and Charleston, S.C. (2009).
Rarely has Sanfilippo missed action since signing with the Rowdies prior to the 2011 season. He played the second-most minutes on the team last season, his 2,250 just 25 behind forward Mike Ambersley.
Sanfilippo, 5 feet 10, 165 pounds, was forced to rest 10 days, missing two games, in late July because of dehydration, but that's the most time he has had to sit as a pro.
"It's something that I strive for; to play every game, every minute," said Sanfilippo, whose has two goals this season, one in a 2-0 win over Puerto Rico on July 21. "It's definitely a goal of mine when I go into each new season."
On Tuesday, Sanfilippo was named the NASL's defensive player of the week after helping the Rowdies record their ninth shutout of the season and scoring a goal against the Strikers. It was the third time he had won the award this season.
"He works hard. He works hard every day, and no matter what the circumstances," Attinella said. "He's usually the first one in the locker room and the last one out."
To make matters more difficult, Hill also will be without defender J.P. Rodrigues, who, along with forward Carl Cort, will be out until Thursday while participating in two World Cup qualifiers for Guyana. That means half of the Rowdies' normal back line will be absent against the Silverbacks.
"It will be slightly makeshift," Hill said.
"But at the same time, the substitutes have all been waiting for their chances. And hopefully (tonight), they'll put their best foot forward."
Rowdies vs. Atlanta
When/where: 7:30; Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg
Records: Rowdies 11-7-6 (39 points); Atlanta 5-12-7 (22 points)
Watch online: rowdiessoccer.com
Standings: With four games remaining, the Rowdies are in sole possession of second place, three points ahead of third-place Puerto Rico and four behind first-place San Antonio. … Atlanta is tied for last with Edmonton at 22 points (Edmonton is ahead on goal differential, minus-7 to minus-14), eight behind sixth-place Minnesota for the final playoff spot.
Last time out: The Rowdies took advantage of an extra man for most of their game at Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 1 to win 3-0 and clinch a postseason bid. Raphael Cox and Carl Cort scored their first goals in a Rowdies uniform, and Frankie Sanfilippo scored his second of the season. … Matt Horth scored both goals in Atlanta's 2-0 win over Edmonton on Sunday and was named the league's offensive player of the week.
Notes: The NASL announced a new season structure starting in 2013. There will be a spring and fall round-robin competition, the winners of each half meeting in a single game to determine the champion. The spring competition will begin in late February/early March and conclude July 4, and the fall season will begin in late July/early August and conclude Nov. 2. … Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella leads the NASL with 101 saves … Rowdies midfielder Luke Mulholland and defender Andres Arango will be suspended for a game if they pick up a yellow card. Both have four this season. … Atlanta has allowed 43 goals this season, most in the NASL.
Bryan Burns, Times correspondent