Cronin Is United's Man in Goal

Steve Cronin, shown yielding a goal while with Los Angeles last year, was solid this week in practice with United.
Steve Cronin, shown yielding a goal while with Los Angeles last year, was solid this week in practice with United. (By Matt Slocum -- Associated Press)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

With its MLS playoff hopes flickering and the goalkeeping corps lacking experience, D.C. United is prepared to make a radical lineup change Saturday night at RFK Stadium by starting a goalie who joined the club just this week.

Steve Cronin arrived Monday from second-division Portland as a hardship roster replacement for Josh Wicks, who is sidelined with shoulder and knee injuries. Consistent with team policy, United declined to reveal the starter for its penultimate league match against the first-place Columbus Crew.

However, Cronin, the goalie of the year in USL-1 for the regular season champion Timbers, received favorable reviews for his workouts and apparently beat out rookie Milos Kocic for the starting job. A club source, who didn't want to be identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the lineup, said Cronin "was very good in training. It looks like he's the guy."

After Wicks was injured Sept. 27, Kocic was promoted to the starting job while Bill Hamid, a recent signing from the club's youth academy, and Chris Sharpe, an MLS pool player available to all clubs in case of emergency, served as backups.

But instead of retaining Sharpe, United acquired Cronin on loan for the rest of the season.

"He had a great year," goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson said. "We followed him and, when we were allowed to sign someone for Josh, we took advantage of it. He was really our best option [among available goalies]. He has looked sharp" since joining United.

Cronin, 26, spent four years with the Los Angeles Galaxy and started 22 league games in 2008. This season, he had a 0.68 goals-against average and 10 shutouts in 28 appearances for the Timbers, who were 16-4-10 and claimed first place before being upset by seventh-seeded Vancouver in the semifinals two weeks ago. Portland's elimination allowed United to finalize the loan.

"I feel like I have had a solid week of training," Cronin said. "I don't know what is happening yet, but I came in with the intent to win the job. I feel ready and confident."

Kocic, a second-round draft pick from Loyola in Baltimore, has started three MLS matches and 10 games overall, including the past two -- a 2-0 league loss to Chivas USA and a 5-1 Champions League victory over San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago. He began the year No. 3 on the depth chart behind Wicks and Louis Crayton but moved up midseason when Crayton was released.

Through a team spokesman, Kocic said Friday that he didn't want to comment.

Simpson indicated that Kocic has responded well to Cronin's arrival: "As long as you keep the lines of communication open and say, 'Hey, look, we're bringing this guy in, but I expect you to respond in a professional way. You're still fighting for a spot; it's just that we need competition in that spot to make [the goalies] better and make the team better.' He's been great about it, and the competition has gotten better."

Hamid, 18, cannot appear in a league game until next season, and although he is eligible for the Champions League, Cronin and Kocic are expected to be in uniform for the critical finale of the international tournament's group stage Tuesday at Toluca of Mexico.

In order to qualify for the MLS playoffs, United (8-8-12) will need to win its final two regular season matches, culminating next Saturday at Kansas City, and hope the outcomes of several other games work in its favor. D.C. is two points behind New England for the final playoff spot and bunched with three other clubs in a congested race.

Goalkeeping is among several personnel issues. Forward-midfielder Santino Quaranta (foot surgery) and defender Bryan Namoff (concussion) are out for the season, while midfielder Ben Olsen (red card) and midfielder-forward Chris Pontius (yellow cards) are suspended for one game.

United has lost three straight at home in league play and, in its previous eight MLS matches, has scored more than one goal just once.

United Notes: At halftime, the club will honor the 1999 squad that won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. Sixteen players and their coach at the time, Thomas Rongen, are scheduled to participate. . . . Defender Julius James has returned from Trinidad and Tobago national team duty. . . . Midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, the Crew's assists leader with six, will serve a yellow card suspension and star defender Chad Marshall is out with a sprained knee ligament.

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