New 'keeper lifts United past Crew

WASHINGTON -- Typically, a must-win game in wet, sloppy conditions against the league's best team would be regarded as a fairly dreadful time to blood a new goalkeeper, especially one who only arrived in town a few days beforehand.But then, by their own lofty standards, D.C. United haven't exactly enjoyed a typical season. So perhaps it was fitting that Steve Cronin earned man-of-the-match honors with a six-save performance in his first-ever United appearance, helping D.C. to a critical 1-0 win over the defending MLS Cup champions on a damp, dreary evening in the nation's capital."Steve did a great job. It's always difficult coming into a new environment," said United coach Tom Soehn. "Early in the week I recall him asking, 'who's he?' and 'who's he?' And you wouldn't have guessed that today because he really solidified things, made great decisions. He looks like he's been with us all year."Signed on loan from USL-1's Portland Timbers on Monday, Cronin adapted so fast that he claims he even knew most of his teammates by name in time for Saturday's kickoff."That was task No. 1 on my first day: I actually did some homework before I got here to try to match up some names to faces and everything," said the 26-year-old, beaming after a standout display in his first MLS match since August 30 of last year. "It's funny walking in here, because the only time I've seen a lot of these guys is on a web page."Cronin's excellence is the main reason United's playoff hopes are still alive after the Black-and-Red were bettered by their Supporters' Shield-chasing adversaries in several important areas on Saturday night.Badly needing a win, United fielded an aggressive 3-5-2 formation for the first time in more than a month but Columbus looked sharper for much of the evening. The Crew carved out superior possession on the sodden RFK Stadium turf, winning the midfield battle and getting the ball into wide positions to deliver a steady diet of crosses and diagonal balls into the D.C. box."With the three-back, that's going to happen," said center back Dejan Jakovic. "But I thought we did very well to get on the end of most of those balls. I mean, yeah, they were serving balls in, but it was mostly our heads that were getting to the ball."United's battling qualities -- conspicuously absent in their last match, a 2-0 humbling by Chivas USA two weeks ago -- shone through as Clyde Simms and his midfield mates worked hard to defend the early lead granted to them by Luciano Emilio's 17th-minute chip over Will Hesmer. Behind them, Jakovic performed yeoman's work at the heart of United's three-man back line and Cronin took care of the rest, confidently patrolling his box and making spectacular saves to deny Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven in the first half."Good team effort," said Simms afterward. "Defensively we were swarming the whole game and that was the biggest difference between this game and the previous games that we haven't had good performances in. There were times when it was ugly and we couldn't get the ball out, couldn't get possession, but we fought through it and sometimes, especially with those conditions, that's what it takes."United's road to securing one of the final MLS postseason berths remains a tricky one. They must beat the Kansas City Wizards next weekend and hope for several other results to break favorably -- and there's also the not-so-small matter of a pivotal CONCACAF Champions League match in Mexico on Tuesday. But hope still burns on East Capitol Street."Tom said at the beginning of the week that every game is treated like our last game," said Cronin. "As long as we keep winning I think we still have a chance. It was a tough situation to come into, tough conditions and a good team in the Crew. But the guys fought hard tonight."