D.C. United looks to Santino Quaranta for leadership

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 12:17 AM

With its season disintegrating this summer, D.C. United's lists of needs stretched the length of RFK Stadium and out the southside tunnel. Ben Olsen had agreed to become the interim coach, and while he would have to make do with the same roster and juggle many of the same crippling issues, he did have the power to inject leadership - his own and a player's - into the malfunctioning squad.

Jaime Moreno would remain the team captain, but with the Bolivian forward's playing time diminishing in his final season in Washington, Olsen required a field boss.

For the good of the team and the player, Olsen chose midfielder Santino Quaranta.

"He is the face of our club now," defender Devon McTavish said. "He has accepted it and flourished with it."

Though just 25 years old, Quaranta is an old soul. In his 10th MLS season, he has overcome serious injuries and a drug addiction to rebuild his career and life. Now a new stage has begun: team leader.

"He has dealt with some tough issues in his life and gotten through those, and it takes character to continue to fight those battles," said Olsen, one of Quaranta's closest friends when they were teammates. "He loves this club; he would do anything for this club to see it succeed."

With United (5-16-3) heading toward its worst season in history, success will have to wait at least another year. Amid mounting losses, Olsen's primary aim is to instill a positive spirit and set a determined tone. In Quaranta, he saw an extension of himself.

"There is an understanding that I will run through a wall for him and that I will keep these guys going," said Quaranta, who is expected to wear the captain's armband again Saturday night against the Los Angeles Galaxy (14-5-5) in Carson, Calif.

The larger role, oddly enough, comes in one of Quaranta's statistically worst seasons. Despite being on pace to set career highs in starts and minutes played, he has scored just once (United's first goal of the year) and contributed a single assist. In the previous two years with D.C., he had a combined seven goals and 10 assists.

But at this point in a lost year, United needs direction as much as production. Defender Carey Talley, who was traded to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, served as captain periodically this season before Olsen turned to Quaranta.

"The biggest part of doing all of this is the Monday through Friday," said Quaranta, whose first start serving as captain was Aug. 22 against the Philadelphia Union.

"Guys get themselves up for a game and it is easy to lead during a game, but it's tough on a daily basis when you are in a situation like we are. Staying positive every day, keeping the guys sharp, that is what I am trying to do."

Like his teammates, Quaranta became discouraged and frustrated as the season declined. But since assigning the armband to Quaranta, Olsen said the Baltimore native "has become more positive. It has helped him become a better teammate. He has the ability to lead, and we are seeing it."

Despite its sad record, United has played hard for Olsen. And with Quaranta connecting with the players, the club has, from all indications, remained unified.

"We're staying positive and working for each other because once it goes bad, man, it really goes bad," Quaranta said. "That's not going to happen as long as I am here."

United notes: Moreno did not travel with the club to Los Angeles because of illness. Rookie defender Barry Rice, initially sidelined with a cut above an eye, is also out after experiencing concussion symptoms, Olsen said. . . . United's new signings, midfielders Carlos Varela (Spain) and Junior Carreiro (Brazil), made the trip and will be eligible to play. . . . Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, who made his 2011 debut with a 20-minute outing last weekend after recovering from an Achilles' tendon injury, is not expected to start.

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