- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

Santino Quaranta relishes his second chance.

After a three-year absence, the D.C. United striker again is wearing the jersey of the U.S. national team, showing his dream of playing in the World Cup is still possible.

Quaranta scored the winner in a 2-0 victory against Honduras at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night, his first international goal coming in his first game for the Americans since 2006.

“There is no other feeling like it,” said Quaranta, who’s on the 21-man roster for the United States’ match with Haiti on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.

The road back to the U.S. roster - and a viable soccer career - wasn’t certain for the 24-year-old. Four years ago, Bruce Arena, then the coach of the U.S. team, told Quaranta he had a chance to secure a spot in the 2006 World Cup.

Quaranta, a Baltimore native, made his U.S. debut in the 2005 Gold Cup and played in five World Cup qualifiers, helping the team book a place in Germany. But Quaranta never made it there.

Drug use took a toll on his performance, and his career took a quick downward turn. United traded him to Los Angeles in 2006, the Galaxy traded him to New York a year later and the Red Bulls waived him in January 2008.

Quaranta was out of soccer, and his career was in trouble.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to play soccer again,” he said. “The turning point for me was when my daughter was old enough to understand that I played soccer for a living. She remembered watching me play, and she asked me if I was ever going to play again.

“That was the point where I promised I would play one time. I never thought I would get this far - to put on a D.C. jersey, and now the chance to wear a U.S. jersey again.”

Quaranta beat his drug problems and earned a second chance in Major League Soccer. He rejoined United in 2008 and produced perhaps the best season of his career, setting career highs in goals, games, games started and minutes played. This season again has been one of his best; he has two goals and six assists in 13 games.

His role in the victory against Honduras made the return to grace all the sweeter for Quaranta - and for some of his former teammates.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Freddy Adu, who now plays for Portuguese giant Benfica. “I said before the game he’s come a long way, and now he’s back with the national team.”

“The guy has battled through a lot,” former United goalie Troy Perkins said. “He deserves this.”

The U.S. team faces Haiti needing just a tie to ensure first place in Group B. The top two teams from the three groups and the two best third-place teams advance to the quarterfinals.

Coach Bob Bradley is using mostly a B team for the Gold Cup, which determines the champion of the North American, Central America and Caribbean region.

The Americans are looking for their fifth title in the event and to overtake Mexico, which also has won four. The only other nation to win the biennial event since its 1991 inception is Canada, which won in 2000.

Quaranta said playing for the U.S. team means a lot more now than when he first got the chance.

“I played in the Gold Cup in 2005 and it was special, but this is way different for me now,” he said. “Back then - I don’t want to say I didn’t appreciate it, because I did - but the feeling now is that it is really something special. I value being able to walk out and play soccer, and to play for the national team is just a bonus.

“I’m a little older and I know I’m not going to be doing this forever, so this is a window of opportunity for me. I don’t see why I can’t go as far as I want with this thing. I’m still only 24, with a long way to go and a lot to learn.”

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