Sandy • Like any reserve player in any sport, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella tries to prepare thoroughly every week, even if he’s unlikely to play.
"It’s happened before, where 24 hours before the game, I get a text and I’m playing," he said.
No such alerts are necessary these days. Attinella has known for quite a while that he would have an extended run in goal, while veteran Nick Rimando is in the midst of World Cup preparation with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Whatever degree of satisfaction accompanied RSL’s rather uninspiring 0-0 tie with FC Dallas, his teammates owed much of it to Attinella’s performance Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
In the second of six MLS contests that Attinella likely will play in place of Rimando, RSL needed his shutout to extend the team’s 12-game unbeaten streak — tying the league record for a start of the season.
Something about a scoreless tie naturally tends to diminish RSL’s achievement. There’s a distinction between remaining unbeaten and actually winning, which took something away from the night’s festive atmosphere with another overflow crowd.
In the postgame news conference, RSL coach Jeff Cassar accused his team of being "too passive" and possessing the ball "with no purpose" at the start. Yet he praised the players’ persistence in earning a tie, and was happy with Attinella’s work.
"I can’t remember a play that he played wrong," Cassar said. "I only see him getting better and better and more comfortable each game."
Attinella made three especially memorable plays. He dived to poke the ball away from Fabian Castillo in the first half, then stopped Tesho Akindele’s close-range shot and denied Castillo after a defensive giveaway in the second half.
At the other end, Dallas’ defensive approach meant that former RSL goalkeeper Chris Seitz was asked to do even less than Attinella. RSL’s best scoring chance came early in the game, when Seitz was caught out of position but Cole Grossman couldn’t loft the ball over a defender in front of the net.
So Real was left unbeaten and unsatisfied, with a symmetrical record of 6-0-6. In soccer, two wins and a loss are worth more in the standings than one win and two ties, and a home-field draw is disappointing in RSL’s culture.
The reality is that not even tying an MLS record is good enough for first place in the Western Conference, as RSL trails Seattle — next Saturday’s opponent.
"It’s kind of strange … you’d think that [record] would be something we’re talking about in the locker room," RSL defender Nat Borchers said Friday. "Our performances haven’t been up to our level of expectation, so I don’t think that we’re super excited about where we’re at, exactly. I think we can be much better. We could be getting more shutouts, for sure."
Attinella delivered one. After the final whistle, he grabbed his towel and water bottle and walked slowly to midfield, where backup goalie Eduardo Fernandez and Cassar greeted him.
The 25-year-old Attinella was drafted by RSL from the University of South Florida in 2011, but didn’t sign with the team until two years later, after helping FC Tampa Bay win the NASL’s Soccer Bowl. He filled in last summer when Rimando was with the USMNT and Josh Saunders was injured, and is getting his big chance to play.
"It’s been a long time coming for him," Cassar said. "He’s been preparing for this not only this year, but for a few years. I think he’s really seizing this opportunity."
And doing just enough to keep his team unbeaten, as of Saturday.
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