ON SOCCER: Hearing footsteps

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Zach Wells had little time to savor his first shutout for D.C. United. He’s now watching his back as rumors swirl that United is on the verge of signing a new goalie to challenge him for the starting job.

After struggling all season, Wells helped United earn its first shutout of the year in the 2-0 win over the Kansas City Wizards last week. Now there are reports that the team is about to bring in Liberian goalie Louis Crayton, who has played in Switzerland.

“I don’t respond to rumors,” United coach Tom Soehn said on Friday when asked about Crayton’s possible arrival.

Wells tried to avoid reporters Friday, but when pressed sounded determined to hold off any competitor for his job.

“Look, they talked up Jose [Carvallo] a lot,” Wells said. “They talked up the battle between us before the preseason, and you saw what happened with him, so we’ll see how it goes.”

United recently waived Carvallo, whom it acquired to compete for the top goalie spot. Wells’ backup is rookie James Thorpe.

“He’s still got to make strides like he has been doing,” Soehn said of Wells. “Saving what he should and throwing in a couple of game-savers that make a difference. He’s made a lot of progress, but it doesn’t hurt to have someone to push him either.”

Wells has played in 16 of United’s 17 MLS games this season and has a 1.50 goals against average - tied for 12th best in the league.

“I don’t think I’ve been playing that bad,” Wells said. “I’ve been improving. It’s a matter of timing. For a number of years I wasn’t a hundred percent fit.”

The best and worst of Wells’ ability was on display in the win over Kansas City. He made eight big saves but also made a number of blunders. At one point he came too far off his line to clear a ball and then hesitated.

“I probably should have just gone through with it and hit it into the 10th row,” he said.

In another incident, Wells flubbed a routine cross from a corner kick over the bar.

“All we’re really looking for is stability in the back,” United goalkeeping coach Mark Simpson said. “Somebody that controls the box. Somebody that’s a big presence back there. Somebody that can pull off a game once in a while. Just someone who is steady and doesn’t give up silly goals. Being a presence back there. Do you look like you’re fragile, or do you look like no one is going to get past you?”

Wells will get another chance to prove himself Sunday when United plays the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. Wells earned four shutouts in 19 games playing for the then MetroStars in 2004 and 2005.

Roundup - Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake opens its new stadium in Sandy, Utah, on Oct. 9 against the Red Bulls. …

Spain tops the FIFA rankings, while the USA fell to No. 31. Still, the team is the highest in the CONCACAF region, one spot above Mexico. Brazil fell to sixth, its lowest position in 15 years….

Outsiders FBK Kaunas of Lithuania dumped Glasgow Rangers out of the Champions League in a 2-1 home qualifier. The loss cost Rangers, which reached the final of the UEFA Cup last season, $20 million. It also means American midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who plays for Rangers, won’t see European soccer this season… .

French star Franck Ribery, 25, who plays for German club Bayern Munich, earned German player of the year honors.

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