- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

While D.C. United has dealt with its share of injuries this season, the goalkeeping had remained largely unaffected. Josh Wicks took hold of the starting job in May from Louis Crayton and - despite some moments when his emotions got the better of him - did not let go.

That changed in Sunday’s loss to the last-place San Jose Earthquakes. Early in the second half, Wicks collided with an opposing player, suffering a dislocated left shoulder and a right knee sprain. On Monday the team learned it would be without Wicks for four to six weeks, meaning he will miss the rest of the regular season.

And with that news, United turned to rookie backup Milos Kocic for a critical stretch of games starting Wednesday at RFK Stadium in a CONCACAF Champions League match against San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago.

“He needs to step in now,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “That’s why we have backups and guys ready to go. We work ‘em all year for the fact that someone might go down, and now it’s his turn to shine.”

Kocic, the team’s second-round draft choice out of Loyola University in Baltimore, moved up the depth chart after Crayton fell out of favor and was released. The Serbian goalie has made eight starts and appeared in 10 games this season in various competitions. He has earned three shutouts, including one in United’s 1-0 victory over San Juan on Sept. 15 in Port-of-Spain.

A victory Wednesday coupled with a loss by CD Marathon against Toluca on Thursday would lead to United advancing to the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League with a game to spare in group play. That would give United some much-needed relief while it pushes for an MLS playoff berth with three matches remaining. The team dropped out of the playoff picture following Sunday’s loss to San Jose.

“I’m ready for this challenge, and I’m excited as well to step up and help the team win,” Kocic said. “They need me the most right now.”

Kocic was slow to arrive on the college scene, transferring to Loyola from St. John’s after his redshirt season and playing just two games before his junior year. But once he earned the starting job in 2007, he didn’t let go. He started all but one game in his final two seasons, securing 29 clean sheets in 43 matches. He earned first-team All-MAAC honors as a junior and senior.

But in his first season as a pro, Kocic has had to deal with the transition to a different life and into the role of a backup. He cited mental adjustments, communication and the speed of the pro game as his biggest obstacles as a rookie. He has used his practice time this season to prepare himself for the situation he now faces, and more than anything else he wants his teammates to have faith in his abilities.

“I want my players to have confidence in me,” Kocic said. “That’s the biggest thing for a goalkeeper. … They have to see in my eyes that I have confidence to lead them through this really hard time. I have been a leader throughout my college career before that, and I’m trying to step up, but I’m not the oldest player or one of the captains, but I’m going to try to lead from the back.”

Clyde Simms, who has moved from holding midfielder to central defense after a series of injuries and setbacks to United’s backline, has nothing but faith in the rookie keeper.

“[Losing Wicks is] a little bit of a blow, but we have a good keeper in Milos to come in and take his spot,” Simms said. “Josh did a good job of keeping us tuned in throughout the game and organizing us. That’s something we’ll have to let Milos know that, even though he’s a rookie, don’t be afraid. We need that leadership from him in the back.”

Notes - Bill Hamid, an 18-year-old product of D.C. United’s youth academy, will serve as Kocic’s backup Wednesday. Hamid joined the senior team Sept. 2 but is ineligible to play in any league matches this season. United will add a backup goalie from the MLS player pool before Saturday’s league match against Chivas USA. …

Defenders Dejan Jakovic and Avery John will miss Wednesday’s match because of yellow-card accumulation. Forward Jaime Moreno is suspended because of the red card he received in last week’s victory over Marathon. …

Right back Bryan Namoff remains sidelined after suffering a concussion two weeks ago.

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