Frisco, Texas • With one goalkeeper already out of the lineup, an injury in the net is perhaps the last thing Real Salt Lake needed.
So when backup Josh Saunders crumbled to the ground while taking a simple goal kick early in the second half of Saturday night's match at FC Dallas, placing rookie Jeff Attinella squarely in the crosshairs, RSL's players were understandably concerned.
As it turned out, there was no need for concern. The 24-year-old Floridian, making his first MLS appearance after starring for Tampa Bay of the NASL in 2012, was flawless, weathering an FC Dallas assault before his teammates gave him a cushion in the final minutes of a 3-0 victory.
"We're pleased Attinella actually gets in a game and makes a couple of critical saves," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "Impressive stuff from another player we have a lot of belief in but you don't know until he's out there between the lines."
The club said Saunders suffered a strained lateral collateral ligament in his left knee. He had injured it when he came down awkwardly on it during the first half and nearly left the game then, but finished the half with defender Carlos Salcedo taking the goal kicks.
When he tried to take the first goal kick of the second half in the 49th minute, Saunders' knee gave way, and Saunders gave way to Attinella.
Asked what Kreis told him, Attinella smiled.
" 'Good luck, kid.' Something like that," he recalled. "He had a smile on his face. Another day at the office, I guess, for him."
Not so much for Attinella, who has played a few games for the RSL reserve team and some on loan for minor league Fort Lauderdale, but has mostly sat this season.
He got his first play on the ball in the 63rd, when FCD's Fabian Castillo burst behind the defense but played his first touch too strong, allowing Attinella to make a sliding stop.
"I really wanted to get that first touch," the keeper said. "When I made my college debut [at South Florida], the first shot against me was a goal. That was not a good way to start. To get that through ball in my hands â¦ to get that first touch out of the way .. after that, the nerves kind of settled."
That's good, because it seems Attinella might have to take the starting job until No. 1 keeper Nick Rimando returns from duty with the U.S. national team. Kreis said Saunders will have an MRI, but "he's in a lot of pain, so it doesn't look good. â¦ I hope it's not a major situation, maybe we're just looking at a couple of weeks."
So is Attinella read for a run as the starter? Even he isn't sure yet.
"I really haven't even thought about that," he said. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around what just happened."