By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Former USF keeper Jeff Attinella had no hard feelings when Real Salt Lake drafted him in 2011 and released him shortly after.
"(The club said) dropping down to a lower division and getting as many games as possible would be the best thing for me. They'd keep their eye on me and see how I came along," he said.
Attinella certainly held up his end of the bargain and was rewarded for two seasons of solid soccer this week when Real Salt Lake signed him to a pro contract.
"Not every organization would keep their word on something like that. It's nice to know that working hard after facing a little bit of rejection definitely paid off for me," Attinella said.
Attinella stayed close to USF roots in the meantime, playing for the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies the past two seasons and leading the team to the league championship this year. He was named to the NASL Best XI after making three saves in a PK shootout win over Minnesota Stars FC in the title game and earned NASL player of the week honors five times.
"Jeff's a talented, young keeper coming off a great season in the NASL," Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey said in a release. "We're excited to bring him back to the club."
Attinella helped the Rowdies make the playoffs in both of his seasons with the club after making a name for himself at USF. The former Big East Goalkeeper of the Year posted 28 shutouts as a Bull and said keeper coach Bryheem Hancock prepared him well for the pro level.
"He knows how to push the right buttons," Attinella said. "He is such a huge part of the reason why I was able to even get drafted in the first place. I still go back to USF to get training from him and that kind of speaks to the person that he is. He's still helping me every step of the way."
Attinella will bring his increased soccer IQ and a ton of confidence with him to Real Salt Lake. The 24-year-old posted 16 shutouts in the NASL and has the experience the club was looking for with 55 games now on his pro resume.
"I just got a ton of experience crammed into two years," he said.
Attinella said he'll be competing for Real Salt Lake's No. 2 keeper spot when he goes to preseason camp next month.
"To have the opportunity to compete as a backup and being on the bench every game compared to two years ago when I wasn't making the team is something. I'm really looking forward to it," he said.