United's Quaranta Is Back in the Game
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Santino Quaranta's reintegration into D.C. United's lineup was handled with care and caution: an eight-minute appearance at the end of one game, half of the next match and almost all of a nonleague encounter.
Then last Sunday, with his hamstring healed and his fitness level at peak condition, Quaranta was unleashed for the entire 90 minutes against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. He assisted on the first goal with an exquisite cross and then set up a late equalizer with a volley on what he called "probably one of the best balls I have ever played -- that's one out of 10, maybe? I was fortunate."
After missing the first three regular season games, Quaranta has been both fortunate and good. Tonight he is likely to retain his starting assignment at forward against FC Dallas at RFK Stadium.
"He was pretty disappointed to not start out the season due to his injury," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "He was equally hungry to come back."
Hunger and health were not enough to earn his way back into the lineup. Despite starting 23 of 30 league games last year and finishing third on the team in goals with five, Quaranta found himself vying for playing time with veterans and newcomers alike.
"It was very challenging because you see how deep this team is and you see guys doing well," he said. "You know when you come back you are on the outside looking in. That's the business we are in. I understand that now; earlier in my career, I didn't understand it and I came back with an attitude that I had to be on the field. This time when I came back, I wanted to get more out of training and do well, because if I didn't, I wasn't going to play."
Quaranta's value is enhanced by his versatility. Primarily a right-side midfielder last year, he played on the left flank in his first two appearances before settling in as a forward the past two games.
Soehn and Quaranta agree that his best position is on the frontline. "I think overall he is a great striker," Soehn said. "He has unique abilities to take people on, one on one. He is pretty creative with his runs on the weak side and he's a good finisher."
Added Quaranta: "I feel like I can create up front. On the outside, it's a different role, both offensively and defensively, and you do what you can. But up there, you can take matters into your own hands."
Despite being in an advanced role the past two games, Quaranta has been more of a provider than scorer.
In a U.S. Open Cup game against Dallas on April 22, his work on the left side set up Brandon Barklage's long-range goal. Last Sunday, after serving a pinpoint cross to Rodney Wallace for a 1-0 lead, Quaranta waited on a long cross and stung a one-timer deep into the penalty area to assist Luciano Emilio's equalizer in the 90th minute. United scored again less than two minutes into added time for a 3-2 victory.
Quaranta could have provided more, but failed to finish a breakaway in the first half and watched Emilio waste his flicked pass into space.
"I like it better when I am the assists guy," he said. "As I get older and see the game in a different way, there is a calmness about the way I play. Before, I was going 100 miles per hour, and once I got an idea in my head, the decision was made. That was it. I have learned that the first option is not always the right one and now I see the game in a way that allows me to consider other ideas."
Quaranta's perspective has been enhanced by his personal life. A year after returning from a serious drug problem, he said he is committed to his career and family. His wife, Petrina, is scheduled to give birth to their second child soon.
"He has been able to prioritize the important things in his life -- his family and career -- and he reflects that every day, the way he comes to work and approaches everything," Soehn said. "On and off the field, he has been fantastic."
United Notes: Playmaker Christian Gómez, who missed the past two matches with a strained hamstring, and reserve forward Ange N'Silu (hip flexor) are expected to be available tonight. Forward Jaime Moreno (heel) was upgraded to probable from questionable. . . . United won a coin toss and will host New York in the second stage of U.S. Open Cup qualifying at RFK. May 20 is the likely date. . . . Dallas goalie Dario Sala is serving a red card suspension, which means United will face backup Ray Burse for the second time in 10 days.