Jeff Attinella’s retirement has come too soon. Injuries are largely to blame. In May 2021, the former Portland Timbers starting goalkeeper suffered a major hip injury while in goal against the Seattle Sounders. Some athletes joke that, when it comes to the end of their career, they want to be dragged off the field. For Attinella, that wasn’t a joke.
He’s 33 and in many ways has a picturesque life away from the field: a great marriage with his wife, Kendall; two young, healthy children; strong support from family around them; and a burgeoning business in children’s books. He’s also dipped into media, where in the world of sports talk, he feels like a natural. As retirement takes him from one coast to the other — from an in-season residence in Portland to a full-time life in Florida — Attinella leaves behind a locker room as invested in the man as the player. He will be missed as a person as much as a performer.
For that person, though, today’s news comes with a question: “What if?”
“When you think about how much success I was able to have in my first go-around at being a starting goalkeeper,” he says, framing his “What if?” “In 2017, [the Timbers] went from fifth to first in the West when I got in goal, and in 2018, we went on [a] crazy winning streak, and then obviously reached the final.”
Both years were emblematic of Attinella’s career. After starring at the University of South Florida, Attinella was drafted by Real Salt Lake, a team with the deepest goalkeeping corps in the league. His one-time preseason roommate, Sporting Kansas City’s Tim Melia, would go on to win an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor, but when they were together in Utah, neither could crack the lineup. Such was life behind a legend, Nick Rimando.
When Attinella arrived in Portland in 2017, he didn’t start. At least, not at first. Jake Gleeson was a type of incumbent. But in both 2017 and 2018, he eventually won the job, and in both 2017 and 2018, the Timbers finished among the best in the league. A spate of injuries derailed 2017 after the team finished first in the West, while in 2018, Portland fell 90 minutes short of a title.
Since then, Attinella’s battled injuries. First, it was a problematic shoulder, which had to be completely reconstructed. Then, it was the hip injury that’s led to this moment.
“[That] was all before I really even had time to grow into the job,” Attinella laments. Though his career had high points, he never had a full year as a team’s starter.
“I wish I could go back to [2017 and 2018] and soak it in a little bit more,” he says, “but for me, I was just always about trying to do my job the best I could and help the team win. I felt like Providence Park was going to be my home for the rest of my career, and all I wanted to do was help the team have success.”
Attinella ended up playing 50 regular-season games for the Timbers. It feels like more, perhaps because his time in Portland coincided with some of the team’s best moments. He was the No. 1 for a first-place finish and a conference title, and he was on the roster as the team two more trophies: 2020’s MLS is Back Tournament and the 2021 Western Conference title. He ends his career with 79 appearances over nine MLS seasons, but particularly for the second half of that career, when he made Portland home, those numbers feel irrelevant. We saw how important Attinella was.
“I never wanted it to be the ‘Jeff, Jeff, Jeff,’ show,” he says, alluding to one of the simplest but most satisfying chants the fans have offered, “but it was really cool that it happened on its own, and that the fans and my teammates appreciated what I was doing without me having to act like someone I’m not. For that, I’m very grateful.”
Particularly during his friend’s, Zarek Valentin’s, time in Portland (through 2019), Attinella got to show who he was. The two became faces of the team, not only as the accountable ones in media sessions during the team’s lows but through their podcasts, social media, and other appearances. Even after his friend’s departure, Attinella remained a major part of the team’s community outreach as well as a metronomic presence in the locker room.
"We are extremely fortunate to have had him with us for the past five years and he will forever be a part of the Timbers family,” Gavin Wilkinson, the Timbers' President of Soccer, said in the Timbers' announcement. “[Attinella] is an outstanding person ...,” he said, with head coach Giovanni Savarese adding, "Jeff has proved to be a first-class professional on and off the field."
His personality connected. There was always something about Attinella that was consistent, and good. Because he never tried to be something else, he was always Jeff Attinella.
“I always tried to stay true to myself and treat people with respect,” he says. “In terms of the media, people within the organization, fans whoever – respect and kindness go a long way. And I hope everyone knows how appreciative I am for their support.”
“Goes a long way” feels right. We look at those games played numbers and think, “it feels like more.” The numbers of years since his 2017 arrival feel like the right amount – the number validates how we feel about the person – but so much has changed since then. MLS has grown. Providence Park has, too. The Timbers stabilized as a consistent winner, while the way we live has had to evolve.
Attinella was with us through it all. He embraced his place, his responsibility, and his opportunity. His time in the spotlight may have been short, but he made it feel longer.
“Being the starting goalkeeper for the Timbers truly meant everything to me,” he says, “and I hope people know that every time I stepped on the field, I left everything I had on it. Sometimes even actual body parts.”
Goodbye, Jeff. Be it your health or your heart, you gave Portland so much.