Barklage, Kocic adjusting to life in DC
By Charles Boehm / MLSnet.comWASHINGTON -- Rest assured that Brandon Barklage is making the most of his rookie experience. Last Wednesday the D.C. United midfielder scored his first-ever professional goal against FC Dallas, a 20-yard strike that put him in "lala land," as he put it afterwards, and a week later he's extolling the virtues of the discount grocery stores near the Alexandria, Va. house he shares with fellow rookie Milos Kocic and a member of the United training staff."We're making the money situation work," said Barklage. "I shop at Aldi, and there's a BJ's grocery store that you buy in bulk and it's pretty cheap. So we make a stop there every week and a half and it works out pretty well."The exploits of United's 2009 first-round SuperDraft picks Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius have been widely -- and justly -- credited as a major boon for the Black-and-Red thus far this season. But fellow rookies Barklage and Kocic have been staking their own claims lately, even as they simultaneously negotiate the daily adaptation to life after college.Barklage, a St. Louis native and Saint Louis University grad who also spent the first half of his NCAA career at the University of New Mexico, has experienced the same cost-of-living "sticker shock" as many other young Midwestern professionals who relocate to the nation's capital -- "I live in pretty much a walk-in closet," he jokes -- but at least he and his Serbian-born housemate have been able to turn to one another for support since the uncertain days of preseason training camp."We lived in the hotel first before we even signed a contract with D.C., so we kind of got stuck together," explained a grinning Kocic. "We went to the combine together, then we signed with D.C., then we stayed as roommates in the hotel. ... It's good that we're set now. Both of us were wanting to get an apartment so we could settle down, get unpacked. ... It was just wild in the first couple of months."Kocic moved to the United States as a freshman at St. John's University, where he quickly underwent a hard-knocks initiation to life in New York City ("it's just interesting to live with a guy from the Midwest. I never had the experience," he says of his co-inhabitant in D.C.). He's come a long way in his adopted country, but his Balkan roots still reveal themselves on occasion, along with the eccentric quirks that so many goalkeepers exhibit."It's a bad combination, the 'keeper and the Serbian culture!" cracks Barklage. "There's definitely a cultural/language barrier going on in the house. Sometimes I'll be joking around and he'll take it seriously, or vice versa. But I'm starting to get used to it, and he's starting to catch on to the lingo here."Barklage and Kocic might have started at the bottom of the locker-room pecking order, but lately they've earned bigger roles and more respect with hard work and consistency on the training ground. Expected to be a reserve winger, Barklage's 90-minute display in an advanced central role against FCD vaulted him into a substitute appearance in Sunday's 3-2 comeback win against New York. Kocic faces an inherently tougher task to win playing time as a netminder, but he won praise for his debut against the Hoops, a shutout that required four saves."I see those guys compete every day, and they've been rewarded with time," said head coach Tom Soehn this week. "But it's not a gift. It's handed to them because they've earned it."Many of Kocic's former teammates on Serbian youth national teams now play their trade on Europe's biggest stages, but he's had to win the confidence of his United elders like any other newcomer, a subtle but hard-won quantity which he has learned to appreciate."In the beginning they were less tolerant with us," he said. "Now they kind of give you more tolerance, and sometimes when you make a mistake they tell you to keep your head up, because they know now, and they trust you. They know that you have qualities so you have to pick your head up and concentrate on the next play, because your qualities are going to come out. That's great."But when it comes time to chip in for bulk-bargain quantities of pasta, toilet paper and the like, the two rookies can look to one another -- and hope that the road to success will enable them to one day look back on their rookie rites of passage as distant, fond memories."The coaches and your teammates, if you play good then they'll give you reward and as a player, that means a lot," said Kocic. "Yeah, it's a bit tough to start from the bottom, but you just have to be positive all the time. That's why we're there for each other; we're in the same position. Sometimes it's tough, but we have each other to talk about stuff."