Tony Gutierrez, AP
SANDY — When it became clear last Saturday that the knee injury of Real Salt Lake 'keeper Josh Saunders was far too serious for him to continue, an immediate “uh-oh” feeling came over RSL supporters everywhere.
At the time, RSL led Dallas 1-0 in a venue it had never won, but the odds of holding on seemed bleak with a third-string goalkeeper getting thrown to the fire.
Somewhere, however, Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey was totally calm.
A former MLS goalkeeper himself, Lagerwey has taken a lot of pride in surrounding starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando with 'keepers who can push him everyday in practice. So as Saunders hobbled off the field with a torn ACL — and with Rimando away with the U.S. national team — Lagerwey confidently watched Jeff Attinella take the field.
“As the guy who was responsible for drafting him two years ago to monitoring his development over the last two years in the minor leagues I had a lot of confidence,” said Lagerwey.
After making several big saves to backstop RSL’s 3-0 win at FC Dallas, Attinella now has the confidence of an entire fan base.
His success isn’t a coincidence. It’s something the 24-year-old Florida native had been working toward ever since he was cut by Real Salt Lake in 2011. That’s where the story of Attinella’s emergence as a household name to RSL fans begins.
Real Salt Lake actually drafted Attinella with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 supplemental draft, but didn’t offer him a contract. Lagerwey and RSL’s coaching staff liked Attinella’s potential, but believed he was far too inexperienced.
Attinella returned to Florida and signed with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL. He started 52 games over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and was sensational in 2012, leading Tampa Bay to the 2012 NASL title. He was second in league MVP voting.
Lagerwey always kept tabs on Attinella, and after his MVP-worthy 2012 season decided to sign him to an MLS contract for the 2013 season.
Nobody really expected him to make meaningful contributions in 2013 — especially when veteran Saunders fell into RSL’s lap in the preseason — but that all changed with one awkward landing. Now Attinella is expected to start this Saturday’s match against East-leading Kansas City, and likely next week’s match at New York as well.
“He did very well. It was awesome to see another player contribute to us in a very meaningful fashion, and this weekend will be a bigger challenge,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis
“Sometimes it’s easier to come into games when you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Now he has an entire week to think about this match at home and what he needs to do to help us win. I will be very eager to see how he does this weekend.”
A monthlong loan to the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL in May helped Attinella stay sharp, a big reason he’s confident heading into the top-of-the-table clash with Kansas City.
“It’s definitely a lot different having time to think about it. I’m trying to do my best to stay calm and not let any of this stuff kind of get to me, and just stay focused. I played a lot of games in the NASL level, so I’m just trying to do what I did down there and just prepare the same way,” he said.
Real Salt Lake is 9-0-2 in competitions since early May, and it’s a streak Attinella hopes to maintain while he’s in Rimando’s hot seat.
“We have a hot streak going. It started with Nick, continued with Josh, and hopefully it can keep going with me,” he said.
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