Saturday, June 14, 2008

Santino Quaranta Tells A Lot More About His Turnaround

Washington Post's DC United beat writer has a lengthy piece on the resurgent Santino Quaranta, who comes clean with the reason for his crash from on high, when he was signed as a 16 year old out of Baltimore, then the youngest player ever signed by the MLS until Freddy Adu.

This year, Quaranta has been seeing a lot of minutes after having been signed as a free agent at the start of the year for a tiny percentage the salary he made as an 18 year old player. The risk has paid off for the United as Quaranta is developing into an everyday player and a developing winger of good, if not stellar quality. I do believe that Quaranta can become a national team player if given the shot and this story is why.

It is clear that soccer and MLS saved his life.
He reached bottom after returning to Baltimore, where he drank heavily and continued consuming pills. He ignored pleas from his wife and parents to get help. On Oct. 7 last year, he underwent surgery on his foot. He polished off the prescribed painkillers in a few hours. The next day, on crutches, he hobbled to the ATM and then to his dealers.

"I remember being at the top of a parking garage downtown one night," he said. "I'd been partying. I was looking down on all the people having fun. I said, 'I don't want to live anymore, I might as well jump off this [expletive] thing.' "

He called Petrina, who drove him home.

A few days later, for reasons unclear to Quaranta, his dealers refused to sell to him. The next morning -- Oct. 23, 2007, the date etched on his right forearm -- he called the league office in New York begging for help. Through his agent, Dan Segal, he contacted Dan Cronin, a counselor who runs the NHL and MLS substance abuse programs. Cronin arranged for him to be admitted into the treatment center in Malibu. On his way to the airport, he made one stop: for pills. "I didn't want to freak out and open the emergency door," he said.

The first three weeks were miserable. A fellow patient helped him overcome problems sleeping by reading out loud a book on explorer Ferdinand Magellan. "I am curled up, physically sick, listening to a man read, and that would soothe me," he said.

Petrina visited on family weekends. He spent 60 days in primary care, returned to Baltimore for Christmas week, then went back to the facility for a transitional stage.

All the while, he was working himself back into shape by running and hitting the weight room. He dropped weight and regained muscle tone. His foot healed quicker than expected.

Upon his release, he boarded a plane and faced another sudden challenge. Sitting next to him in first class was a Baltimore Ravens player he used to drink with. (Quaranta declined to identify him for this interview.) Reluctant to tell his friend where he had been, Quaranta politely declined the mini-bottles of liquor placed on his armrest and invitations to a party that night.

Back home, every week includes two mandatory drug tests, three or four meetings for recovering addicts and alcoholics, and daily conversations with his sponsor, Derrick Butta, a Baltimore fireman who had similar problems. Reality set in, as well: After the Red Bulls waived him, he had no job.

United officials said they were unaware of Quaranta's plight until Segal called them saying Quaranta was looking for a second chance.

"There was a lot of hesitation on our part," General Manager Dave Kasper said. "But deep down, he is a teddy bear and we've always really liked him. We talked to a lot of people who felt he was in a good place."

Payne said he felt the team owed Quaranta another opportunity, in part because "there were probably things we should have done differently for him" early in his career.

Olsen and team captain Jaime Moreno vouched for Quaranta and, after separate meetings with Kasper, Payne and Coach Tom Soehn, he earned his way back onto the team. His modest contract is laden with incentives.

"He is a totally different person," Kasper said. "To his credit, he has been nothing but a true professional. He finally gets it."

Primarily filling the role vacated by the injured Olsen on the right side of midfield, Quaranta has played in all 12 league games, starting nine, and has two goals and two assists. In addition to the drug tests and therapy, United mandated that he finish his high school work this summer. He counsels other drug abusers. He is living with Petrina and Olivia and has strengthened the bond with his parents.

Most importantly, he has turned away from pills and alcohol.

"Is there a temptation today? No," he said. "I can't tell you what will happen tomorrow. I live for each day."
I think Tino is making the most of his second chance so far and that is encouraging. What is also encouraging to me is that teammates like Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen stepped up for their friend and teammate. That tells me a lot about these men.

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