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DC 'keeper Wicks gaining confidence

WASHINGTON -- If the long, strange history of Major League Soccer's D.C.-New York rivalry had to be summed up in one five-minute stretch, the final moments of D.C. United's 2-0 win on Thursday night would surely rank as a strong candidate.On an evening when a deep-seated rivalry's intensity converged with slick, sloppy conditions at RFK Stadium, anything seemed possible as United clung to a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. Despite Santino Quaranta's 36th-minute opener, the New York Red Bulls had hauled themselves within reach of an equalizer and four minutes from full time, a few quick bounces of the wet ball gave Juan Pablo Angel, the Red Bulls striker who ranks among the league's elite finishers, a wide-open look at goal inside the D.C. penalty area."You only have a split second to decide: Are you going to charge him down and just make yourself big? Are you going to hold your ground and wait for the shot?" United goalkeeper Josh Wicks said afterwards. "I was able to stand my ground and made a good reaction save."With that crucial denial of New York's top marksman, Wicks preserved his team's shutout, set the stage for United veterans Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez to create the game-clinching goal just moments later -- and prolonged the Red Bulls' misery in what has lately become a one-sided Atlantic Cup derby."I've been on both sides of it and I can tell you it's much better on this side," said Quaranta, who played three games for the Red Bulls during a star-crossed phase of his career in 2007. "It's hard, you just know when come into RFK, when you're New York, you know you're not going to win this game. I don't know. It's weird."The Red Bulls are now winless in their last 10 trips to the nation's capital, a skid which dates back to October 2005 and includes setbacks in league, playoff and U.S. Open Cup play. Juan Carlos Osorio's team probably deserved better from their performance on Thursday, but they were ultimately undone by Wicks' composed display in goal, as well as some timely contributions from the United bench."I think I had a great game and it shows once again, if they need me and do decide to call on me, they have a solid guy that is going to play well," said Wicks, who made five saves on the night to further cement his status as D.C.'s incumbent between the posts. "Being a 'keeper is all about being consistent and I think I'm starting to get on a roll, I'm starting to be more consistent and I think my team is starting to have confidence in me."Wicks has now posted clean sheets in two consecutive league matches and his contributions have been instrumental in helping United -- almost always prolific in the attack -- shore up matters at the back."Most importantly is to get a shutout," said D.C. boss Tom Soehn. "I preached all week and today especially, that when we score that first goal, 1-0 is good enough."Taking advantage of the sort of luxury available to few coaches in MLS, Soehn brought on Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez (boasting 431 career games, 169 goals and 137 assists between them) to help stabilize his squad in the second half. The South American duo duly exerted their influence, creating several chances and coordinating possession before carving out an stoppage-time penalty kick to salt away the win."Everybody has to be ready to show up in these kind of games," said Moreno. "Every time we step on the field we try to do our job so that's what we tried to do tonight. It was a big three points."A bruised toe kept Gomez out of last weekend's trip to New England and also hampered his full involvement in this week's training, but he was energetic and incisive in 45 minutes against New York. The Argentinean won the penalty kick that Moreno drilled home in the dying moments, drawing Red Bulls netminder Jon Conway off his line as he broke clear at the tail end of a quick D.C. counterattack. But he was quick to pay tribute to Wicks' pivotal block just moments before."If they score that goal, things get complicated for us," said Gomez. "But obviously Josh made a good save and we were able to prevail."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.