- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

Santino Quaranta, once the prodigal son of U.S. soccer, scored his first goal in an American jersey as the U.S. national team produced a late burst to finish off Honduras 2-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night.

Quaranta, making his first appearance for the U.S. team in more than three years, was one of America’s brightest hopes when he turned pro at 16 for D.C. United. He briefly dropped off the soccer radar in 2007 as he battled a drug addiction before making a comeback with United in 2008.

The 24-year-old chose the right moment and location to bring the trajectory of his career full circle with a wonderfully struck game-winner in front of a mostly pro-Honduras crowd of 26,079.

“It was a very special night for me, but to be back wearing the jersey was probably more special,” said Quaranta, who won man of the match honors. “Just to be back on the field with the team, to listen to the anthem was very emotional for me. It’s been a long road back. To be able to do it in front of my wife and my two kids was very special, and that’s the most important thing for me now.”

The victory secured a quarterfinal spot for the Americans in the competition.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley went with a young lineup that did not include any of the starters who lost to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in South Africa last month.

Former United goalie Troy Perkins won his second consecutive start, as did forward Freddy Adu, who partnered with Brian Ching up front in the 4-4-2 formation.

Quaranta came close with a header in the 16th minute, but he missed the target by a yard.

Ching nearly had the opening goal in the 22nd minute after collecting a perfect feed from Crofton’s Kyle Beckerman, but his effort bounced across the goal mouth.

The Americans were lucky not to be a goal down at the half-hour mark. Walter Martinez had only Perkins to beat on a breakaway, but the goalie did well to force the striker’s shot to the near side, and his effort went into the side-netting.

It was the play of what was a lackluster half for the Americans.

Ching opened the second half with a half-volley shot over the bar, but the U.S. team continued to struggle.

Bradley then went to his bench, sending on Confederations Cup starters Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies. Both substitutes helped set up Quaranta’s goal in 75th minute.

Davies collected Feilhaber’s pass and set up Quaranta on top of the 18-yard box. The Baltimore native then sent a right-footed shot low and into the net.

Ching then added the insurance goal four minutes later, heading in Steve Cherundolo’s cross to make it 2-0. With the victory, the U.S. national team improved to 12-4-3 all time at RFK.

“It was a good solid team effort,” Bradley said. “Obviously it’s also special that Santino scores the first goal. That’s something that he has obviously worked hard in many different ways to be here tonight, and it’s a very special part of the evening. We knew that this would be a good challenge. Honduras is a good team, and this was a game that was going to go a long way towards who would finish first in the group.”

The Gold Cup determines the champion of the Caribbean, North and Central America region.

The Americans finish group play against Haiti at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday. The top two teams from the three groups and the two best third-place teams advance to the quarterfinals. If the United States wins Group B, it will play the third-place finisher from either Group A or Group C.

In the first game of the doubleheader at RFK, Haiti defeated Grenada 2-0.

Fabrice Noel headed in a free kick in the 14th minute and James Marcelin added a score with a solo effort in the 78th as Haiti (1-1-0, 3 points) earned its first victory in the tournament and kept Grenada (0-2-0) winless in group play.

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