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Veteran leader Frankie Sanfilippo a 'calming influence' for FC Tampa Bay

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing now,” FC Tampa Bay’s Frankie Sanfilippo says. “Hopefully I get to play a couple more years.”

BRIAN BLANCO | Special to the Times

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing now,” FC Tampa Bay’s Frankie Sanfilippo says. “Hopefully I get to play a couple more years.”

TAMPA — When FC Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill was weighing his options for team captain, he had plenty of choices. Hill could have picked from a handful of veterans.

But Hill said the choice seemed simple. He selected eight-year veteran defender Frankie Sanfilippo, 29, who captained Division 2 clubs in Carolina and Rochester.

Sanfilippo's pro career has carried him across the East Coast — from Syracuse to Rochester to Carolina to Charleston back to Rochester and now to Tampa Bay. He has played with six clubs but has always been one of the most respected and dedicated players wherever he goes.

Hill said he noticed Sanfilippo's leadership qualities early.

"He conducts himself in a great manner," Hill said. "He's always willing to help others. He also has a nice calming influence when needed. You notice that right away. He doesn't allow frustration to boil over.

"Players react in certain ways, and I've never seen Frankie become frustrated with himself or his teammates when things aren't going well. That's one of the qualities you have to have in a captain."

Sanfilippo is always controlled and comes from the "lead by example" mold. He's uncomfortable when boasting about himself. He got that from his first year of Division 2 soccer, when he shared a place with three teammates in Syracuse.

In the sometimes uncertain world of Division 2 — where teams and players come and go — he knows moving around is part of the job.

He thought he had a home in Charleston, but the team moved to Division 3 after his first year. The same thing happened after his return to Rochester last year.

"I think it's definitely tough," Sanfilippo said. "Everyone comes from a big school where they were big players in college, and they come to the professional level, it's a different story. You just definitely have to pick your time, and once you get in the game, you've got to know what you've got."

He hopes Tampa Bay is a destination, not a temporary stop. With a 10-month-old son, Sanfilippo is embracing the role of dad and would like to have a 10-year pro career.

His flexibility will likely keep him there. Besides playing right-outside back, he can move to holding or center midfielder.

"He recognizes danger," Hill said. "He sees danger very well on both ends of the field … and has the appetite to do so."

Sanfilippo was an exemplary athlete at University of San Diego High School, which includes alums such as baseball players Carlos Quentin, Barry Zito and Mark Prior and basketball player Luke Walton. He played football and received a scholarship offer to play cornerback at Washington State.

But he knew soccer was his future.

He was the 56th overall pick in the 2003 MLS draft by San Jose after three years at San Jose State but turned down going pro to finish his degree in sociology. The next year, he joined Syracuse.

"I knew I wanted to play pro soccer," he said. "It was a tough choice choosing to play my last year of college. But I don't regret anything I did in the past. …

"When you're one of the older guys, everybody looks at you and says, 'Man, you've been in this league forever.' Some people might look at me and say, 'He's been around a while. He's got some miles on his legs.' My body feels great."

One more goalie: With goalkeeper Daryl Sattler (right ACL) out for the season, FC Tampa Bay added Evan Newton on loan from MLS's Houston Dynamo. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Newton, who starred at Old Dominion, will back up former Countryside High and USF standout Jeff Attinella, who makes his first pro start tonight against Carolina.

.Tonight

FC Tampa Bay (1-1-2) vs. Carolina (2-1-1)

When/where: 7; Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg

Tickets: fctampabay.com; (813) 287-1539

Veteran leader Frankie Sanfilippo a 'calming influence' for FC Tampa Bay 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 11:08pm]
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