Santino Quaranta Brings Gold Cup Experience Back to United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 1, 2009

Santino Quaranta's priorities for the past month were with the U.S. Gold Cup squad, an opportunity to restore national team credentials after a 3 1/2 -year absence and bolster the Americans' bid for another regional championship. But at every stopover during the tournament, beginning in Seattle and ending in New Jersey's Meadowlands, he made sure to monitor the ups and downs of his full-time employer, D.C. United, by going online to watch video and read about the matches he had missed.

"In the hotels, there's no Fox Soccer Channel, there's no Direct Kick [pay-per-view], and I wasn't going to figure out where to go" in the cities to watch live, he said Friday. "It's hard because you want to be out there and you want to fight with them. It was difficult sometimes to watch it. I'm really happy to be back."

Quaranta relished his time with the national team, playing in four of six games with two starts and scoring against Honduras in a first-round match at RFK Stadium. But he also missed being with United, the team that offered him a second chance last year after drug addiction threatened to derail his promising career.

After missing three league and three U.S. Open Cup matches, Quaranta rejoined the club this week to prepare for Saturday night's game in Houston against the Dynamo, MLS's Western Conference leader.

"It obviously gives a spark for the guys any time you bring someone back," said United Coach Tom Soehn, who seems likely to start Quaranta in Houston at forward or a midfield flank. "It's refreshing to have someone who is eager to get going again."

Quaranta's return comes at a critical time for United, which is without starting midfielders Rodney Wallace (yellow card suspension) and Clyde Simms (hernia surgery) as well as reserve midfielder-forward Thabiso Khumalo (broken wrist).

Despite a 4-0-3 run in all competitions, United played poorly in the second half of last Saturday's 2-2 tie at San Jose and labored to a 1-1 draw at home Tuesday against Salvadoran club Firpo in the first leg of the Champions League series. (Quaranta was back in town but ineligible because of a red card in the 2008 tournament.)

After the Houston match, United will fly to San Salvador for the return leg against Firpo, then head home for the Aug. 9 friendly with Spanish titan Real Madrid at FedEx Field.

The club needs Quaranta to add some bite to the attack. Striker Luciano Emilio has not exhibited his menacing qualities since returning from a knee ailment, reserve forward Ange N'Silu has been a disappointment and, as often happens in the middle of a long rookie season, Wallace and midfielder-forward Chris Pontius have dipped in form.

Last weekend, United missed a golden opportunity to claim a share of first place in an Eastern Conference race that has its four top teams within four points of one another. Depending on Saturday's results, United will end up anywhere from alone in first to five points behind the leader in fourth place with two-thirds of the season complete.

Two teams in each conference will earn automatic playoff berths. The other four slots will be filled regardless of conference affiliation.

"It's tough to be away for a month mentally and with the ups and downs of that tournament," Quaranta said of the Gold Cup, at which a young U.S. team performed well until the second half of the championship game and was overrun by Mexico, 5-0.

"I'm looking forward to [Saturday], especially since we are struggling a little bit now. To bring some life back into the locker room is good. The most important thing now is getting back on the same page and understand that we are a good team. We've got to get the swagger back that we had."

Quaranta credits the intensity of the national team games and training sessions, along with the speed of international matches, for his improved fitness.

He is under consideration for another national team call-up ahead of the World Cup qualifier Aug. 12 at Mexico, but with U.S. Coach Bob Bradley preparing a veteran squad comprising mostly European-based players, Quaranta might have to wait a few months for another chance.

"It was important for his confidence to be looked at again," Soehn said. "He also understands his duties here, and he is really happy to be back with the guys. He's got a lot of friends here that have helped him through difficult times. He's excited to be back and to produce for us."

United Notes: In four previous visits to Robertson Stadium, United has three losses and a tie and has not scored. The three goals conceded in those matches were all scored by Dynamo star Brian Ching. . . . Houston is without midfielder Brian Mullan (ankle) and defender-midfielder Richard Mulrooney (knee).

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