BEAVERTON, Ore. – Jeff Attinella has experienced a few professional rites of passage since joining the Portland Timbers before the 2017 season. That year, he claimed the starting goalkeepers’ gloves for the first time, as a professional. Last year, he not only solidified that place but helped his team advance to an MLS Cup final, earning his first postseason victories in the process.
This offseason, however, Attinella experienced a subtler career milestone, one few professional players reach a level to attain. Shortly after his 2018 season ended, the Timbers’ starter was the subject of a transfer rumor.
“Obviously, when you get tied to a team like that, it means you’re doing things right,” Attinella confessed about his links to Liga MX’s CF Pachuca. “For me, it was just a nice little thing to end the season. It was a cool little rumor.”
In this case, the rumor may have been slightly more than transfer window gossip. As Attinella implied after Portland’s first training session of the 2019 season, the idea of relocating occupied a moment of his family’s time, even if the conversation may not have been that serious.
“I talked about moving to Mexico with the family for about 30 minutes,” he explained, his smile nearly cracking into laughter, “and then you kind of knew it wasn’t going to happen.”
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Particularly for a family raising an infant daughter, the idea of, on short notice, picking up their lives and relocating two hours outside of Mexico City may have seemed unrealistic, but the mere interest was notable. Now 30, Attinella is in the prime of his career, but as is the case when your profession is goalkeeping, starting jobs have been difficult to come by. Life as an understudy to Real Salt Lake legend Nick Rimando defined stage one of his MLS life, while the Portland job had to be won from longtime Timber Jake Gleeson, on multiple occasions.
Last year, however, Attinella enjoyed a personal breakout, establishing himself as a clear number one and accumulating statistics (save percentage, goals against rates, for example) that compared favorably to most of his peers. That his season drew attention from a five-time CONCACAF champion was only confirmation of his new status, one that was luring eyes from beyond MLS’ borders.
“Last year was good for me,” he conceded, when asked about how to improve on his 2018 results. “I think the main thing is, this year, I’ve got to be healthy and I’ve got to be in that net for the whole season.”
Attinella was slowing in training camp by injuries, and ailments at the end of the campaign drew Steve Clark into the Timbers’ lineup over the regular season’s final months.
“I haven’t been able to [stay healthy], yet,” he admits, “but I felt last year was a really good experience, for me – getting those games that I did. I dealt with a little bit of everything. So, just continuing to build and put myself in a position to be in goal, every game.”
The implied question around Attinella’s performance, though, is where he goes from here. Like most others in Portland’s projected starting XI, Attinella’s place is not guaranteed, even if he is in a more secure place than he’s been for most preseasons. The impending arrival of Slovenian goalkeeper Aljaž Ivačič speaks to the Timbers’ plan to maintain competition at almost every spot, with the return of Clark and the presence of last year's Timbers 2 starter, Kendall McIntosh, rounding out preseason's crowded field.
“It’s professional sports,” Attinella said, when asked about the positional competition. “[The team tried] to get better at every position, every year. We’re excited to have him in, be a part of the team.
“The goalkeepers, we work as a pretty close-knit group. I’m sure he’ll come in and compete. That’s what everyone is hoping for.”
The competition could prove positive for Attinella, pushing him to reach yet another level. If his career progression is any indication, though, Attinella’s capable of motivating himself. From his transition phase as he came out of the University of South Florida through his days in Salt Lake City, then on to Portland, the Timbers’ starter has been able to make consistent, incrementally progress throughout his career. In that light, receiving attention from abroad was a natural part of Attinella’s course.
“Any time you get tied to a team like that, you know you’re doing stuff right,” he emphasized. “I’m just going to try to keep it rolling.”