Patient Cronin hoping for first 2011 start in goal for DC

WASHINGTON — For a while, it looked as though D.C. United goalkeeper Steve Cronin might never see the playing field in 2011.

DC acquired the former Portland Timbers goalkeeper in the offseason, but a wrist injury in preseason prevented Cronin from staking a claim on United’s No. 1 spot in goal.

After returning from injury earlier this year, Cronin became Bill Hamid’s backup and had yet to see a minute of time in league play. However, when Hamid was sent off in the seventh minute of DC’s 3-3 home draw with Toronto last Saturday, Cronin came in off the bench and earned his first appearance in an unusual situation.

“In hindsight, there are some things I would’ve liked to have changed about the other night,” Cronin told reporters of his performance. “With that said, it was tough circumstances all the way.”

The tumultuous affair of Saturday seemed to reflect what Cronin has been through this season.

“There have definitely been some ups and downs,” Cronin said. “That’s life — so things come and go, good and bad. I’m just excited and [taking] each moment as it comes.”

That next big moment could be Cronin’s first start of the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). With Hamid forced to sit because of the one-game red-card suspension, it just may be the break Cronin has needed.

That being said, the starting spot is not written in stone for Cronin and he knows it. The coaching staff will also have the option to call on rookie Joe Willis, a third-round draft pick out of the University of Denver who started in Sunday’s reserve game against Toronto.

“They’re going to battle it out, and whoever does a better job over the course of the week will win the spot Saturday,” assistant coach Chad Aston said.

In Tuesday’s training session, the two were hard at work with assistant coach Pat Onstad, as the rest of the team enjoyed a lighter day going through drills focused on passing and touch. If Cronin does win the spot, however, he will certainly feel comfortable transitioning into the lineup behind an established back line.

“We all have a relationship already,” Cronin added. “They know [that] I’m a guy who likes to come out [and] be impactful in my box. I want them to feel confident in me taking care of the area and being able to play back to my feet as well.”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.