Quaranta knows where Adu coming from

Having turned pro at 16, D.C. United player ready with tips for 14-year-old

Pro Soccer

November 29, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Major League Soccer season is finished and Santino Quaranta had been doing his training at an old, familiar place in Highlandtown.

"I've been doing the run I used to do around Patterson Park when I was just a kid," said the D.C. United forward who still lives in the city and who recently bought a new condo here. "I remember where all the cracks were in the road - and all the cracks are still there."

On this day, he was busy packing, preparing to fly to the United Arab Emirates, where he will play for the U.S. under-20 national team at the FIFA world youth championships beginning today.

At the tournament, one of his teammates will be Freddy Adu, the 14-year-old whiz kid who signed a six-year contract with Major League Soccer last week and who will play with Quaranta in Washington with United.

Before Adu, Quaranta was the whiz kid.

He left Archbishop Curley High as a 14-year-old to go to MLS' training facility in Bradenton, Fla. There, he went to school and trained until signing his pro contract at age 16. At the time, Quaranta, who played his first pro game on May 9, 2001, was the youngest U.S. player to sign a pro soccer contract.

"It was a pretty big deal," Quaranta said, "but I didn't go on Letterman like Freddy did."

Today, at 19, Quaranta is a well-respected player who is expected to make the U.S. national team and play in the 2004 Olympics.

"I do feel old," Quaranta said with a smile in his voice. "Freddy is a good kid, but it brings me up short. What's going on here? Where did all the time go?"

Sports fans are seeing it with more frequency in many sports. Children are turning pro. LeBron James, 18, jumped from high school to pro basketball. Brian Vickers, 19, won the NASCAR Busch Series championship this season and will be the youngest-ever full-time competitor in the Nextel Cup Series in 2004. And now Adu.

"What they're able to do is pretty unique," said Kevin Payne, vice president of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which oversees five MLS teams, including D.C. United.

"They're very superior athletes, and it's a very significant choice to be a pro in a team sport at their age. They have to give up things, but at the same time, they enjoy a lot of privileges other kids do not. Every one of them will handle it differently."

When Quaranta looks at Adu, he sees a 14-year-old who is much more experienced and physically developed than he was, even as a 16-year-old prodigy.

"We each follow in another's footsteps," Quaranta said. "I followed Bobby Convey, who was 17. Now, Freddy follows me, but he's much more experienced at 14 than I was at 16. When I was 14, I was still eating cheeseburgers."

Quaranta was about 6 feet, 175 pounds when he signed, compared to Adu, more compact at 5-8 and about 150. Quaranta has had to work hard to add 10 pounds, build his core body strength and stomach and upper leg muscles to reach his potential.

Now, he said, he is getting close to reaching his goals. "I'm getting to where I want to be - part of the youth national team, prospects of making the Olympic team and the World Cup in 2006. Those are my goals," he said.

Though United coach Ray Hudson has said Adu's natural gifts for movement, quickness, balance and awareness would keep him from "being out of place if he started an MLS game tomorrow," Adu, like Quaranta, still will need work to develop his body and gain the strength necessary to compete against more mature players.

"I'll never forget my first day of practice," Quaranta said. "It was a whole different world as a pro. To go there and be in the starting lineup, to practice with guys who had been pros for years and years. Most of them are in their mid- to late-20s. You're just so excited.

"Not everybody can do what me and Freddy can do. It's physically demanding, but it's also mentally draining. Every day everyone is bigger and more experienced than you. You go to games and, after games, the guys go out for beer. Freddy won't be able to do that with us for another seven years."

Childhood gets left behind. There's no running home after school for snacks or to meet up with friends to play video games or just kick a ball around. There's no dinner with the family.

"I missed a lot. Freddy will miss a lot. But I wouldn't trade this for a week's vacation with my family in the summertime," Quaranta said. "In the summertime, you're getting ready for preseason. Any player, every player you talk to will tell you what a great opportunity this is."

Quaranta, however, has found time for a family life outside of soccer. On March 5, he and his childhood sweetheart, Petrina Brubach, whom Quaranta says he has been in love with since middle school, had a daughter, Olivia.

"Petrina and I, the love we have for each other, we're going to get married," he said. "I haven't put the big rock on her finger yet, but I'm planning a surprise. I'm so excited about Olivia and my family. Every day I'm thankful for everything that has come my way."

Quaranta thought about that for a few moments and said, "Freddy will be all right. The group of players we have on D.C. United are amazing guys. He'll be treated like one of us. I'll try to show him what to do and what not to do."

There are only two "big" things Adu has to learn, Quaranta said - to treat his teammates with respect and avoid cockiness. "I think Freddy already understands that if you show respect, you get it back," he said. "And I'll make sure he understands that if you stay away from egotistic ways, people will like you."

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