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Quaranta's career, personal life continue to grow

WASHINGTON -- Abundantly inked with a colorful variety of tattoos, hair spiked into modish peaks, Santino Quaranta's appearance belies his nine years of Major League Soccer experience. But the baby-faced veteran has already appeared in 116 regular-season MLS matches and developed -- at just 24 years of age -- into an important personality in a D.C. United locker room where the intermingling of maturity and vitality has been a crucial element of success this season.Quaranta has yet to reach his top gear in 2009, having featured in less than half of United's league action to this point due to an early-spring hamstring injury. Yet the Baltimore native with one of the most compelling backstories in the league brings so much more to the table than his three assists in 354 minutes played.His rare mix of age and experience has helped bridge the generation gap between the team's incumbents and youthful recruits, to say nothing of the fact that his work ethic and daily professionalism makes him a living example given the harrowing drug addiction that nearly claimed his life two years ago.His ongoing personal reinvention passed another joyous milestone last week, when he, his wife Petrina and their 6-year-old daughter Olivia welcomed a new arrival into the family: Valentino, a 7-pound, 11-ounce baby boy born on Friday afternoon.Quaranta's second child has reminded him just how far he's come since those dark days when prescription drugs controlled his life and estranged him from his loved ones."It's amazing. I'm so grateful," said Quaranta. "Eighteen, 19 months ago, it was a whole different world for me and to be able to bring a child in the world and be responsible, to be there for my wife -- to be able to do the things that I'm doing now, it really is an amazing thing. I am so happy -- I can't explain how happy I am."But bringing a newborn home presents its own set of challenges for a professional athlete, a fact Quaranta's teammate Fred would likely corroborate. The Brazilian midfielder and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, Eduarda, last June, but Fred's playing form dipped for several weeks as he adapted to the responsibilities of fatherhood and the erratic sleep schedule that it usually includes.On Tuesday, Quaranta acknowledged the temptation to doze during team film sessions -- "it gets dark, and it's nice and quiet," he joked -- and confessed that in the aftermath of Valentino's arrival, Saturday's normal gameday duties were a bit more draining for him. But he's determined to share the load with Petrina."It takes a lot out of you emotionally," he said. "My wife, I like to help her out a lot, but I'm tired this morning. So I have to find a balance of trying to wake up with him sometimes and relieve her, and not come here and try to sleep through training."With four kids of his own, D.C. head coach Tom Soehn knows the routine well and he believes Quaranta will adapt to the situation quickly given his "veteran dad" status."Yeah, it is [a challenge]," said Soehn. "But every individual handles it different. It's not Tino's first. I think every father or mother going through the first time, it's difficult -- after that, it gets a lot easier. So he's handled it pretty well."While he's traded the dangerous partying lifestyle of the past for the simpler pleasures of family, fatherhood and soccer, Quaranta admits that his struggle against addiction remains a daily one. It's a choice that has paid rich dividends thus far, and he still seeks to reach out to others facing the demons that once drove him to the brink."What I do, first thing, is keep myself sober," he said. "I don't ever forget that. That's always number one on my list. I'm still finding time to hit meetings even now and be part of the people that need my help as well, not just my baby and my wife."So it's a bigger picture than just being selfish and taking. Because God's given me a lot back in my life, I just don't want to take it and not be grateful, and forget about it. So I keep myself grounded first, and then I go from there."