'Keeper Kocic impressive in United net

WASHINGTON -- One could argue that Milos Kocic has been turning heads from the very beginning of his Major League Soccer career. After watching him in a club-organized combine over the winter, D.C. United saw enough potential in the Serbian-born goalkeeper to justify bypassing Stefan Frei -- widely rated as the top netminder in the 2009 SuperDraft -- with their first-round picks, instead selecting Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius before snagging Kocic in round two.Less than a month later, Kocic made a bold statement or two at the outset of United's preseason preparations in January, spurning the term "rookie" and setting his sights on a spot in the first XI: "I don't care who is behind me, who is in front of me. You've got to beat me to be the starting goalkeeper," as he put it.Understandably, the D.C. coaching staff demurred, requiring first and foremost that he earn his place on the 24-man roster. United even acquired another 'keeper in Josh Wicks as they looked to foster competition between veteran incumbent Louis Crayton and his understudies.But Kocic's work ethic and considerable talent have since helped him climb into the reckoning for United's starting job, a fact that was driven home by his surprise selection against FC Dallas on Saturday."We are real fortunate where we have three goalkeepers this year that can step in and play at any time. It's a tough thing because you've got to make those tough decisions and there's only one position for three guys," said D.C. goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson on Monday. "But realistically, you've got to keep everybody a part of it and we wanted to work him and give him a game. We felt confident with him."Kocic surrendered an early goal against the run of play and struggled at times amid Dallas' late barrage of crosses and long balls, many of which involved bruising clashes with imposing striker Kenny Cooper."He fouls you every time," said a grinning Kocic. "He hit me in the jaw really hard once. It was like a boxing match."But the 6-4, 200-lb. rookie weathered the storm and came away with an encouraging victory in his first-ever league start."Milos, I think he brings something different. He's good on crosses. I think he was a little unfortunate a couple of times not to get a [foul] call towards the end, and it caused him to bobble the ball a couple times," said D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms afterwards. "It was good to get this one under his belt and good that it was a win, to keep him positive and keep him going."The fact that Kocic won such an opportunity despite the presence of more experienced options says much about his personal progress as well as the depth on offer to D.C. head coach Tom Soehn."Josh and Louis are great competitors -- we are really good colleagues but every day it's a fight between us, who is going to play," said Kocic. "I am trying to step up and play the best I can. I think tonight maybe I was in a couple situations where I should punch the ball and maybe I should react better. But I think I helped the team by coming out on those balls."Simpson has had to tamp down Kocic's eagerness and ego, and readily admits that Kocic is "still raw," especially in terms of his handling technique and his communication with defenders.But the former United netminder sees vast potential in the Serbian youth international's physical gifts and even notes similarities to his own days as a hotshot rookie back in the old American Professional Soccer League."I'd rather have a guy that you have to tone down versus try to get someone to be more outgoing. We're still working on that point of organizing and communicating and taking command back there, but I love his attitude," said Simpson. "I mean, a guy should come out and expect to play. If he doesn't, then there's something wrong with him. You know, I was the same way, young punk that I was."Simpson won three MLS Cups as a United player and one as an assistant coach under Peter Nowak in 2004, and he played a major role in developing Troy Perkins -- once an unheralded D.C. reserve, now a U.S. international who plies his trade in Europe. If his instincts about Kocic are correct, Simpson might soon have another success story on his hands."He's got a great work rate and doesn't complain, just listens, willing to learn," said the United assistant. "He's a good guy to develop."