Today D.C., tomorrow the World Cup?

Highlandtown's Quaranta, a star for United at 17, could play for U.S. in '06

July 02, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Ray Hudson, Santino Quaranta watched the U.S. men's soccer team make its unprecedented quarterfinal run in the World Cup with added interest and thoughts of his promising future.

He saw Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, both 20 years old and friends of his, not just survive, but thrive on soccer's grandest stage.

He heard U.S. coach Bruce Arena state the World Cup "is a young man's tournament."

And the 17-year-old Highlandtown native, already in his second professional season with D.C. United, couldn't help but wonder what it would be like representing his country when the World Cup takes up in Germany four years from now.

"Sure, you think about it because it's realistic to say I have a chance to be at the next one, and I hope I'll be there. But I know it'll take a lot of hard work," said Quaranta, a starting forward for D.C. United who is also on the U.S. under-20 team roster.

During ABC's post-game wrap of Germany's 1-0 win that eliminated the Americans in the quarterfinal round, the discussion turned to the U.S. team's future. Quaranta's name came up right away. Analyst Tommy Smyth was quick to describe him as a player to watch. Fellow analyst and former Italian great Georgio Chinaglia also had good words.

Talk to D.C. United's first-year coach Ray Hudson about Quaranta and a friendly warning comes first: an extended conversation full of positives can be expected.

The native of England has been impressed with Quaranta's pace with the ball in tight situations, his fine touch, smart decisions and endurance that allows him to remain as dangerous in the 80th minute as in the first. Hudson acknowledged Quaranta in his early years is a work in progress, with one of the coach's daily tasks trying to get the most of his striker's natural abilities.

"He's mature beyond his years, but more importantly, the abundance of the natural talent that is in him at such a tender age is astounding," Hudson said.

"You just hope he remains hungry, he's never satisfied and he doesn't take the easy way out."

Quaranta, with a solid physical makeup at 6 feet and 165 pounds, has found the situation with D.C. United a strong benefit to his development. He is surrounded by veteran experience, getting constant pushes from the likes of fellow forward Jamie Moreno and midfielders Marco Etcheverry and Richie Williams.

"He has a great future if he wants. It's all up to him," said Moreno, 28. "He has all the talent. He just has to work on it. He still has a long way to go, but he's doing well."

After scoring five goals and finishing with 11 points to become the youngest Major League Soccer All-Star selection last year, Quaranta shrugged off a slow start this season and leads the team in scoring with three goals and four assists.

He returned to the field in Saturday's 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy after missing two games with a hip flexor as United (6-6-1) moved into sole possession of second place in the MLS Eastern Division.

"Last year, I had no pressure on my back at all -- I'd go in, play and have fun. This year, it's been a lot of pressure because now they're relying on me, and in the beginning I wasn't scoring," Quaranta said. "I like the pressure. That's the whole part of becoming a professional player. If it was easy all the time, it wouldn't be any fun. Having that pressure helps you, it motivates you to do well."

At 17, Quaranta, who left Archbishop Curley during his sophomore year and is expected to get his GED next month, is now settled into his professional life. Last year, he was the youngest player ever to be signed, play and score a goal in MLS, and plenty of attention came with that. Now, he is treated more like just one of the guys, something Hudson believes is vital.

"Everybody's got their fingers crossed with this kid, and having that sense of expectancy can be a big weight on a young player. We try to deflect that away from him," he said.

For now, Quaranta is continuing to hone his skills and help D.C. United win games. Down the road? Perhaps he will be playing for the United States as the team attempts to advance in 2006.

"It's a lot of work to get to a World Cup -- we have to qualify first," he said. "It's a long process, and there's so many other good players in this country that are playing well. [Clint] Mathis, [Josh] Wolff, Landon and Beasley -- it would be great to be on the field with them."

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