Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Santino Quaranta likely deserved a less abrupt end to his playing career. Instead, he is getting an unprecedented chance at a new beginning.
After not being offered a new contract with D.C. United and having his 11-year MLS career come to an unceremonious close, Quaranta, still just 27, elected to retire instead of relocating to another city and franchise. With his family grounded in his native Baltimore, Quaranta was fully prepared to turn the page and enter the next chapter of his life. He was set on working with Pipeline Soccer Club, the Baltimore-based youth organization that he helped create.
While that will still likely wind up consuming his near future, there has been a bit of a detour — OK, about an 8,000-mile detour east — on his post-MLS journey. Quaranta is resuming his playing career in India in the inaugural season of the country's Premier League: A six-team, seven-week, once-in-a-lifetime odyssey.
A conversation around Christmas time with former United teammates Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno brought the idea to his attention, and after dealing with the agency involved with organizing the effort, he became more intrigued.
"The opportunity presented itself," said Quaranta, who has never been to India before. "(Etcheverry and Moreno) mentioned it to me. I didn't think a whole lot of it and was just finished playing and away from the game a little bit. It started to take a little more meaning when I started to see more about it."
Fast forward to this week, when Quaranta became one of the charter members of Team Siliguri, a team based in the West Bengal region in the eastern part of the country. A team coached by Etcheverry. A team where he will play along with former FIFA World Player of the Year and Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro.
"I'm very excited," said Quaranta, who will be coached by a former teammate for the second consecutive time after playing under Ben Olsen with United. "(Etcheverry)'s a fantastic guy, and, more importantly, his expertise with the game and the way he expresses himself as a leader, he's somebody you want to play for. You sprinkle in a guy like Cannavaro, and it's a dream. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Quaranta is the only American among the 24 international players who will be competing in the league, where the six teams have $2.5 million to build their eclectic rosters. Teams are comprised of one international coach; one "icon player" (i.e. Designated Player-types who are paid the most and have international cache); three other international players, with one of those being from an Asian country; six Under-21 Indian players and older, top Indian talent.
"It's good for the younger players, local players and Under-21 guys and the exposure," Quaranta said. "What a great opportunity for some of the young players in India that six months ago had no idea that this would come about. It's a humbling experience. I'm just as excited as those kids."
In addition to playing with Cannavaro, Quaranta will be going up against the likes of former Argentina star striker Hernan Crespo, French midfielder Robert Pires, Nigerian midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha and English striker Robbie Fowler during the brief campaign, which lasts from Feb. 25 to April 8. Former Vancouver Whitecaps manager Teitur Thordarson is also taking part in the league as coach of the team from Barasat, the team that wound up with Crespo.
Quaranta said that he is slated to leave sometime in the next two weeks after he secures his visa and that he has kept in shape despite his playing hiatus. That does not mean there are not any obstacles and potential drawbacks ahead. His two young children will not be accompanying him, considering that they are in school and would need to go through a battery of immunizations just to make the trip. Quaranta said he is still unsure if his wife is going to be joining him there.
"Fitness is not an issue," Quaranta said. "It's adapting to a time zone that's 11 hours ahead of mine. It's bittersweet, because it sucks leaving your family for seven weeks. Financially, it benefits them tremendously, though. It's a good situation for everybody."
The financial incentive is certainly there. Quaranta fetched a $180,000 bid from Siliguri in Monday's auction during which international players and coaches were dispersed among the teams. Crespo drew the most lucrative bid at $840,000, while Cannavaro brought in $830,000, according to Indian reports.
As for whether this turns into a long-term second playing career for Quaranta, that remains to be seen. Quaranta noted that the franchises have been bought with an eye on the next 10 years, and this short season will provide a glimpse of what a playing career in India would be like. Until then, it's all about soaking up what is sure to be one of the more unique playing experiences for an American abroad.
"For me, I'm not sure what this leads to," Quaranta said. "I take the here and now as it comes about. If it makes sense for my family and for me, then I have to look at it. For now, I'll see how it goes."