WASHINGTON — It may seem incongruous, even tone-deaf, to outsiders, but last-place teams can benefit from buoyant predictions and public statements of defiance.
D.C. United suffered their 17th league defeat of the 2010 season with a gut-wrenching loss in Los Angeles over the weekend, and few would blame the club’s fans or players for showing symptoms of clinical depression given what’s transpired over the course of this miserable season.
But gloominess is not an option for anyone within earshot of Santino Quaranta.
“We’ve been creating a lot of chances,” said Quaranta. “If you look around the league in that position, in the [wide] positions, I feel like this team is one of the best teams in those positions.
"If [the front office] is not happy, they can make changes but when I look around the league, I don’t see too many teams that are better than us in those positions.”
The long-serving 25-year-old has been to hell and back in his nine-year MLS career, fighting through injury woes and drug addiction to become one of United’s most dependable regulars, and he continues to bang the drum for his side despite their setbacks.
Two Saturdays ago in Toronto, he guaranteed a DC victory over TFC in a halftime TV interview (and was vindicated, despite missing an empty net less than five minutes later).
He even remained bullish in the aftermath of the Galaxy’s 2-1 comeback win at the Home Depot Center, one of the most dispiriting results in a campaign chock-full of them.
“Continue to play like that and we’ll win games,” he said on Saturday. “It’s kind of been a theme all year, but they’re the best team in our league and I think we should have won this game tonight. Our record and our points don’t show what kind of team we are.”
With Jaime Moreno’s playing time sharply curtailed of late, Quaranta has worn the captain’s armband for most of his team’s recent games and he has taken the job seriously.
Few observers would have associated the term “role model” with the impetuous teenager who joined United at age 16 in 2001, but it now fits the Baltimore native who drives home to his high school sweetheart and their two young children every day after practice.
“Yeah well, it’s what I do on a daily basis in my real life, you know?,” he said of his growth as a leader. “I try to help a lot of people, [be] a positive guy. Jaime’s our captain here, when he plays on the field. He’s taught me a lot: what to do, what not to do. And if I’m given that armband, I lead the guys in a positive way.”
Quaranta leads the team in starts and minutes played and despite the fact that it has translated into just one goal and one assist in league play, he feels he’s in the midst of his best-ever season.
A dominantly right-footed player, the emergence of rookie Andy Najar on the right flank has pushed Quaranta into a less-comfortable role on the left, but the assignment elicits nary a grumble from United’s top tub-thumper.
“That’s not up to me,” he said. “I’ll play wherever.”