D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta has emerged as the new replacement for Argentine playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, who is sidelined with a sports hernia injury.
Quaranta, traditionally a flank player, pulled off a solid performance Tuesday night against the New England Revolution in the U.S. Open Cup, playing as a central midfielder and scoring the winning goal in a 3-1 semifinal victory. He will get his second start in the role on Saturday when United visits the Chicago Fire.
United coach Tom Soehn has experimented with different players and formations in the absence of Gallardo, the team’s most expensive player. Gallardo, who is making “slow progress” on the road to fitness, has not played since June 29 and has missed nine games in all competitions.
“The other night you could see that I worked hard and good things happened,” Quaranta said. “Tommy will have to keep me on the field.”
Quaranta, 23, has not played as a central midfielder for United before.
“He’s always been a guy who can play several roles,” Soehn said. “He found a way to inject his energy to make us better in that spot. Games are won in the midfield.”
The Baltimore native brings a different style to the center of United’s midfield, showing a willingness to address the defensive side of the ball.
“The variation keeps other teams guessing,” defensive midfielder Clyde Simms said.
Since Gallardo’s injury, Soehn has used Jaime Moreno, Rod Dyachenko and Fred in the playmaking role. The coach even has abandoned the position for a couple of games, using two defending midfielders in Joe Vide and Simms.
“It’s about working hard on both sides of the ball,” Quaranta said. “You just can’t play offense, but you’ve got to help at the back, too. This is a big game for me this weekend to set me on my way.”
United (8-9-1, 25 points) won its last game at Chicago (9-5-5, 32 points) 2-1 on June 7 - the club’s only road win this season. The Fire are second in the Eastern Conference, seven points ahead of United, which is in a four-way tie for fourth place.
Bad blood - The last time United and Chicago met was in a U.S. Open Cup game at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, on July 8, which was embroiled in controversy.
Chicago’s Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco bloodied Simms’ face and then got into a tussle with United’s Marc Burch. The exchange ended with red cards for both Blanco and Burch. On the way off the field, Blanco head-butted a game official.
“[Saturday’s game] will be a little more heated, but we are not going there to get revenge,” defender Devon McTavish said.
Blanco was later banned from the U.S. Open Cup for two years and fined $7,500.
“That’s Blanco’s issue; we just want to win games,” Soehn said.
New goalie - Liberian goalie Louis Crayton could make his debut in goal for United against Chicago, replacing starting keeper Zach Wells.
Crayton officially signed with the club on Friday.
Wells’ season has been plagued with errors, and he was blamed for the second goal in Sunday’s 4-1 loss at the Red Bulls, when he came off his line and missed a cross.
Soehn would not comment on Crayton’s status on Friday, and the goalie was not made available to the media.
Crayton, 30, has spent the last decade playing in Switzerland for numerous clubs, most recently FC Basel. The 5-foot-11 keeper has played 35 times for the Liberian national team.
McBride back in USA - Forward Brian McBride, fresh from playing for the U.S. Olympic team, could play his first game for Chicago on Saturday in his return to Major League Soccer. The 36-year-old, who played eight years with the Columbus Crew, has spent the last five seasons with English club Fulham.