Quaranta is making healthy gains

MLS: After three seasons filled with injuries, the Archbishop Curley grad is again showing the promise that propelled him to D.C. United at age 16.


July 24, 2005|By Kim Phelan | Kim Phelan,SUN STAFF

When Santino Quaranta left Archbishop Curley at age 16 and became Major League Soccer's youngest player ever at the time, he was hailed as one of America's next stars.

Three injury-filled seasons and seven surgeries have slowed his development, but this year he's starting to fulfill some of that promise. His progress could be on display today, when Quaranta and the U.S. national team play Panama in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The showdown - part of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football Gold Cup tournament - decides bragging rights for soccer in the Western Hemisphere.

Quaranta is playing with the U.S. national team for the first time. He joined it late last month as a replacement for injured forward Eddie Johnson, who tied for most goals in Major League Soccer last year.

Quaranta has appeared in two of the team's five Gold Cup games, starting once, with one assist and 97 minutes played. But the numbers don't tell the whole story of his growth as a player.

"I think he understands right now it's not enough to be young and talented," said Peter Nowak, who coaches Quaranta on D.C. United, the defending MLS champion. "You have to work and take care of yourself. He has matured the last two years and he knows he has to work and maintain his health."

Last year, beset by injuries, Quaranta played only 23 minutes for D.C. United. He had five abdominal surgeries in 2004 to repair nerve damage but bounced back this season, showing the form that earned him All-Star status his rookie year (2001).

Four weeks ago, when Quaranta was called up to the U.S. team during the MLS season, Nowak gave his blessing.

"He deserved the call," Nowak said. "This is the first step to establish himself on our team."

Quaranta had been sidelined many times before. In 2001, he was out with a groin injury. The following year, it was a hernia. In 2003, he had arthroscopic knee surgery.

"Santino was hurt for so many months, for so many years," Nowak said, "but this preseason he was very hot and we just want to keep him healthy."

This isn't the career Quaranta expected when, as a sophomore at Curley, he signed a pro contract.

"Once I started scoring [as a rookie] and made the All-Star team, there were a lot of expectations," said Quaranta, who had five goals his first season. "The last couple years, it was tough. It wasn't good."

His coach said Quaranta's newly found work ethic may be keeping him healthy. While the 20-year-old forward used to "roll out of bed to go to practice," Nowak said, Quaranta now shows up early.

"This season is probably the hardest I've worked in the last four years," he said. "I feel I'm a better player because I'm smarter and more mature."

Quaranta is scheduled to return to D.C. United next week after today's Gold Cup final. He has two goals in 10 MLS games this season and high hopes to make the World Cup roster in 2006.

"He's still young," said Pep Parella, who coached Quaranta at Curley. "He's not even 21, and I think people forget that he has his best years ahead of him."

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