With Josh Wicks Sidelined, a Pair of Rookies Step Up to the Net for D.C. United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As D.C. United concluded practice Tuesday morning at RFK Stadium, Josh Wicks sat on the sideline grass and looked like he was heading to an early Halloween party. A sling on his left arm and a brace on his right knee, both damaged on one play Sunday, the D.C. United goalkeeper tried to maintain his sense of humor.

"A little bit of bad luck," he said. "I'm not going to Vegas anytime soon."

Wicks isn't getting back on the field any time soon, either. Shelved four to six weeks because of a sprained medial collateral ligament and a dislocated shoulder, he could only watch as rookies Milos Kocic and Bill Hamid went through drills in preparation for a CONCACAF Champions League match Wednesday night against visiting San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago.

When United's season began, Kocic was the third-string goalie behind Wicks and Louis Crayton. Hamid, 18, was finishing his senior year at Annandale High School and playing in the club's youth academy.

But with Crayton long gone (waived in June), Wicks unavailable and the roster deadline passed, United will turn to the Serbia-born Kocic, 24, for the final stretch of this precarious season. United probably needs to win its final three league matches to qualify for the MLS playoffs and perhaps collect a victory and tie in the last two Champions League games to advance to next year's quarterfinals.

Hamid, a late-season signing, is eligible for the Champions League only. For backup purposes in league play, United will soon add a goalie from MLS's player pool, which consists of five players who are available to any club in hardship cases.

"I feel bad for the guy -- so many injuries in one play," Kocic said of Wicks, who started the past 17 league matches. "I know he's really competitive, he wants to play, he wants to finish this season, because this is actually his season. This is his best season of his life. I'm there to support him, he is there to support me, so we go through this stuff together."

In the 52nd minute Sunday, Kocic replaced Wicks, who suffered the injuries within seconds of one another after racing too far from the net in pursuit of a corner kick. It was the second time in a month that Kocic, a second-round draft pick from Loyola (Md.), was rushed into action. In the U.S. Open Cup final, Wicks was ejected for misconduct after a Seattle goal.

In all, Kocic has made eight starts: two league matches in May, four Open Cup games (three of which were against lower-division opponents) and two Champions League outings. He has three shutouts and conceded 10 goals in 10 appearances.

"It's a reality check when you come to play pro and all of a sudden you're not playing," midfielder-defender Clyde Simms said. "He learned early that it takes time. He has been patient -- he's been good at being patient -- and now is his chance."

Although Kocic is listed at 6 feet 4 and 200 pounds, slightly bigger than Wicks, he has yet to forge an intimidating presence in the penalty area. While he has adapted to the faster pace of the pro game, he is still working on decision-making and communications skills.

"We're just working on sharpening everything," goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson said. "We have put him in some difficult situations, coming into the middle of games, but as a starter, he'll be focused and ready. I know he's looking forward to the opportunity."

Kocic inherits the starting job at a time when United's roster is in tatters. Besides Wicks, right back Bryan Namoff remains out indefinitely with concussion symptoms, captain Jaime Moreno is serving a red card suspension, and defenders Dejan Jakovic and Avery John are unavailable because of yellow card accumulation.

With a victory against winless Jabloteh, United (2-2 in group play) would move to the brink of clinching one of Group B's two Champions League quarterfinal slots.

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