On Saturday night, legends were made again when the Tampa Bay Rowdies captured the NASL Soccer Bowl over the Minnesota Stars, after local hero Jeff Attinella made three thrilling saves in the penalty kick shootout in front of a sellout crowd of 6,208 fans at Al Lang Stadium.
"Everyone is ecstatic," said Attinella, who was the NASL Goalkeeper of the Year. "We really put on a good show tonight, to come back from two goals down and to come out and keep fighting, it really speaks to our team and to be able to pull it out speaks volumes about our entire team."
The Rowdies entered Saturday's contest needing to recover from a 2-0 loss in Minnesota last Saturday. Considering the title would be won on aggregate goals, a memorable performance was necessary in front of the organization's first sellout at Al Lang Stadium.
"Coming into this game, we had a big mountain to climb," said Attinella, who grew up in Clearwater and won titles during his time at Countryside High School and at USF. "As a goalie, there's not much you can do to help the offense. For me, it was kind of, we were all over them and we got that first goal and for me personally, I usually don't get pumped up and I usually don't celebrate after we score goals. But tonight, I was getting pretty pumped up, to have the fans behind us the whole time and credit to our team, we kept it pretty exciting and kept them in it. We kept the pressure on (the Stars) and we didn't let them dictate the game, which is what they tried to do by sitting back like that, so the energy the feeling that the team had, there's (120 minutes) left in the game and we didn't want to leave anything left."
The Rowdies did that and more.
After Carl Cort, a former English Premier League player, put in a rebound past Stars goalie Matt VanOekel in the 25th minute, the Rowdies put the home crowd into hysterics when midfielder Keith Savage scored in the 51st minute to put Tampa Bay up 2-0 and tied in the aggregate score at 2-2.
The Stars quickly responded when Stars midfielder Lucas Rodriguez scored on a breakaway to put Minnesota back ahead in aggregate total, but second-half substitute Daniel Antoniuk scored a stunning goal in the 86th minute to send the game into overtime.
In the two 15-minute overtime periods, the two sides played to a draw, sending the game into a penalty kick shootout.
This is when Attinella demonstrated the type of skill that he used to help Countryside win a state title and USF to four Big East Conference Championships.
Minnesota converted on its first attempt when Neil Hlavaty slipped a shot past a diving Attinella. After Luke Mulholland scored for the Rowdies, Attinella made his first save with a dive to his right to stop the shot by Devin Del Do.
Raphael Cox then rifled a shot into the upper left portion of the goal to give the Rowdies a 2-1 lead in the shootout.
Attinella then produced his most stunning save of the game with by kicking the shot by Kyle Altman while diving to his left.
After Fafa Picault scored to give the Rowdies a 3-1 lead in the shootout, Simone Bracalello put one past Attinella to give Minnesota a slight opportunity to get back into the shootout, especially after Cort's shot was saved by VanOekel.
But thanks in part to good scouting by the Tampa Bay coaching staff and even better execution by Attinella, the Rowdies were able to capture the title when the Clearwater-native sprang to his left on the attempt by Lucas Rodriguez and easily corralled it for the win.
"Hats go off to organization," Attinella said. "They gave me a sheet breakdown of every kick (the Stars) have taken in the NASL. It definitely helps. You go through the script but you never really know where they're going to go. But it definitely helps. You have to read their body, but it helped didn't it? When I saw where the kid was going, I knew i had it. When I saved it, it was all a blank. It's weird I can't really remember it. It all kind of went blank. I remember reading his number and said, 'Yeah, he likes to go this way and when he started running up to the ball, in my mind, I was like I got him. I knew I had it. Actually when he set up for the ball I remember thinking in my head, this is it, game over, it's over because I'm going to save it. Luckily he put it in a spot where I could get my hand to it. I did and it's why we're still celebrating."