- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Santino Quaranta used to look like a sulking child every time he muffed a shot. He would shake his head, seemingly asking why the talents that made him a U.S. under-17 national team star weren’t parlaying into much success with D.C. United.

At 16 years, 4 months, he was the youngest player signed by Major League Soccer. He had an SUV and was making headlines, but the phenom from east Baltimore had a lot to learn. Soon a string of injuries would severely limit his playing time and leave him almost forgotten.

Four years later and finally fit, Quaranta, 20, is making a major impact for his club, and his improvement has been noticed.

On Monday, the United striker got the call from U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena to join his 23-man roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, where the United States will play Cuba, Canada and Costa Rica in group play starting July 7. Because of the invitation to replace the injured Eddie Johnson, United (5-4-4) will be without Quaranta for tonight’s game at the Chicago Fire (8-6-2).

In United’s last two games — a 4-3 win over Chicago and a 2-0 victory over the previously unbeaten New England Revolution — Quaranta played a key role with a goal and two assists.

“I feel this is a new start, and it’s something big for me,” Quaranta said. “It’s totally due to my confidence. I feel like I’m going to score in every game. It’s weird. The last time I felt this way was in my first year.”

And he was very good that first year. In 2001 Quaranta was setting all sorts of marks, becoming the youngest in MLS to play, start, score, earn player of the week and be named an All-Star. In his debut season, he had five goals and one assist in 16 games.

In his second season, the injuries hit. He played in just 11 games, scoring three goals but missing the last three months because of an abdominal hernia. In 2003, he played 12 games but struggled with a knee injury that ended his season. At just 18, Quaranta also became a father when his childhood sweetheart gave birth to a daughter.

“I went through tough times,” Quaranta said. “Everybody goes through tough times. You know, you learn different things. I dealt with things and overcame them.”

Last year was the toughest. Injuries limited him to one league game and 15 minutes of action in the playoffs, and his confidence was shot.

Said Quaranta: “I was definitely depressed. I had my family and my fiancee and my daughter. If it wasn’t for my father and mother, I don’t know where I would be.”

Quaranta has shown a raw instinct for the game that can’t be taught by a coach. The third-generation Italian-American has excellent vision on the field and is noted for making productive runs on and off the ball. Lately, he has been falling back to midfield just behind the two forwards, allowing him to see the play unfold.

“Now I feel like a mature player and a smarter player than my first year,” said Quaranta, who has two goals and two assists this season. “I’m just doing what I have to do. If I’m asked to play goalie, I’ll do it. I will do what has to be done to win.”

Note — D.C. United has accepted an invitation to compete in the 2005 Copa Sudamericana, a 34-team tournament also featuring some of South America’s most prestigious clubs. United will enter the tournament in the round of 16 and will face either a club from Peru or Chile in home-and-away fixtures. United is tentatively scheduled to play host to a first-leg match on Sept. 15 at RFK Stadium.

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