At age 27, longtime D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta is retiring from MLS to work full-time with a youth soccer club he helped create and to assist a substance abuse program that helped turn around his life and career four years ago.
“As a soccer player, you’re expected to push it until you’re 33, 34 years old,” he told the Insider on Sunday. “That’s not me. This is it. My gut and heart were telling me, and I’m at peace with it.”
Quaranta, a Baltimore native who signed with MLS at age 16 and spent 10 of his 11 seasons in Washington, was let go by United last week. The club didn’t exercise the option on his contract and decided to not offer a new deal at a reduced salary.
Quaranta was eligible for the MLS re-entry draft but withdrew his name from consideration before Friday’s deadline.
Although five clubs contacted him, he decided to “walk away on my terms. … It’s scary. I haven’t done anything else since I was 5 years old. But I kept asking myself: ‘What are you doing this for anymore?’ I don’t feel like I’ve got anything more to accomplish. It’s time.”
Quaranta, who has a wife and two young children, earned about $120,000 this past season. But with the opportunity for a career off the field, he said he didn’t want to “keep chasing $100,000 around the country. It’s not worth it. I have a lot here [in Baltimore]. There’s more to me than playing the game.”
Quaranta will devote much of his time to Pipeline Soccer Club, a Baltimore youth program with 35 teams and growing. He and friend Sean Rush launched the club last year. Quaranta is the director of professional development and a vice president on the executive board.
He said he’ll also work with Dan Cronin, a substance abuse expert who oversees MLS and NHL rehab programs. Quaranta credits Cronin with rescuing him from drug and alcohol addiction.
“He’s a fantastic man,” Quaranta said. “He has mentored me. I want to help others like he has helped me. It gives me a lot of joy.”
Although he resumed his career in 2008, Quaranta will forever fight the demons that sent his life into a downward spiral. “People forget I’m in recovery,” he said. “It never goes away.”
Quaranta began thinking about a non-playing career about 1 ½ years ago and sat down with Cronin to map his future. United’s decision not to renew his contract — and the manner in which it unfolded — prompted him to take a harder look at his options.
“The situation in D.C. was handled in all the wrong way,” he said. “I never talked to the front office guys, never knew what they wanted to do, just got a phone call from Benny [Coach Ben Olsen]. It did reiterate to me the business and selfish nature and the bubble we’re in.”
Quaranta said his greatest sense of fulfillment after resurrecting his career was playing for the U.S. national team during the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup and scoring against Honduras at RFK Stadium. He said he holds maintains fond memories of the friendships he built during his career, which included 27 goals and 29 assists in 180 regular season appearances (133 starts) as well as 15 caps and that one goal for the United States.
Quaranta contributed one goal and four assists in 21 league matches (10 starts) for United this year.
“I’m stepping away, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s a new chapter.”