- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Santino Quaranta woke up Sunday morning, he was as sore as could be — and he couldn’t have felt better.

After sitting out nearly three months while enduring the aftereffects of a concussion, the D.C. United midfielder made his return to the pitch the night prior, playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-3 tie against Toronto FC.

It was an exhaustive effort for most involved on the D.C. side, as United received an early red card and had to play nearly the entire contest a man down. The next day, Quaranta felt the “good sore” of such a tiring outing all over his body but with one notable exception: His head felt perfectly fine.

“No symptoms. Nothing detrimental at all,” he said.

Concussions have plagued United’s roster this season, with Quaranta, defender Devon McTavish, midfielders Kurt Morsink and Brandon Barklage, and forward Blake Brettschneider falling victim.

Morsink, Barklage and Brettschneider made fairly prompt comebacks. The ailments for Quaranta and McTavish, on the other hand, lingered for months.

But with Quaranta back and McTavish cleared as well, it would appear United (6-6-9) are, at long last, over the concussion bug as they prepare to host the Vancouver Whitecaps (3-11-9) on Saturday at RFK Stadium.

“It’s been a while since we had this many numbers to deal with,” coach Ben Olsen said. “It makes my life a little stressful as far as picking lineups and stuff, but that’s what you want.”

McTavish, who turned 27 on Monday, has not played this year since absorbing a concussion in preseason. He had contemplated retirement as the weeks of recovery turned into months with no progress.

A couple of weeks ago, however, his frustrating headaches faded, just as they did for Quaranta. He finally resumed training last week and played 45 minutes in United’s reserve game Sunday.

“It’s one of those things where you never really know when you’re going to get back and if you can get back,” McTavish said. “For me, just to be back practicing and playing in a reserve game is such a relief. I’ve been smiling a lot more in the past couple weeks than I had been in the previous five months.”

In recent years, defender Bryan Namoff, midfielder Josh Gros and forward Alecko Eskandarian stepped away from the game because of complications of concussions they suffered with D.C.

With those prevalent reminders of how dangerous such injuries can be, the United staff has become exceedingly cautious when dealing with head trauma. Players must be symptom-free for three days after a concussion before exerting themselves physically, athletic trainer Brian Goodstein explained.

“It’s a scary thing,” Quaranta said. “The most important thing was getting rid of the headaches first and just getting your daily life back.”

At that point, recovering players progress to biking, followed by running, ball skills and, if all goes well, sprinting. They then must be cleared by a neurologist and pass a league-mandated computer test before resuming full training, Goodstein said.

For Quaranta, his return to the starting lineup Saturday with just two practices under his belt was a surprise. With United forced to burn two substitutions after the ejection of goalkeeper Bill Hamid and an injury to center back Brandon McDonald, D.C. ended up letting the 26-year-old go the distance.

“Everyone was pleasantly surprised Tino held out there for as long as he did,” captain Josh Wolff said.

McTavish has more work to do after his long layoff. The West Virginia alumnus acknowledged that he struggled somewhat with the speed of Sunday’s reserve game but said he found more comfort as the match progressed.

Although the team had discussed tweaking its formation on opposing goal kicks to decrease the number of headers McTavish needed to contest, he said that idea didn’t cross his mind once the match started.

McTavish, for the first time in months, was able to get his focus back where it belonged — on the field.

“I’m a little rusty and out of shape, but it was good to be back out there playing — there’s no doubt about that,” McTavish said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, obviously, trying to catch up with five months of sitting on the couch.

“But getting out of the cardio room and getting out here training with the guys and being a part of the team again — it really lifts you up in ways you can’t explain.”

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