Can't Hold Him Back: D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid's career on the rise

Bill Hamid does not like talking about himself.

Ask D.C. United’s 23-year-old goalkeeper a question about his long-term goals, his motivation or his national team prospects, and you’ll likely get an eye-roll, a chuckle or a deflection.

Like it or not, Hamid will have to become more comfortable with talking about himself: He’s made himself the center of attention this year in the best possible way.

The United academy product, now in his fifth season in MLS, is coming off his first All-Star selection and recently became the first Homegrown player in MLS history to log 100 appearances. And he is a major reason D.C. United are in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and in the midst of the greatest turnaround in MLS history heading into a weekend matchup with East leaders Sporting Kansas City.

Statistically, Hamid is on track for career-highs in shutouts and wins, and his current save percentage -- 74 percent -- is tied with Real Salt Lake icon Nick Rimando for best in the league among starting goalkeepers.

It’s the intangibles, though, that have set Hamid apart from other goalkeepers in MLS. Put simply, he makes the types of jaw-dropping, highlight-reel saves that other goalkeepers in the league don’t -- and, in some cases, can't. 

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid is on pace to set career-highs in both shutouts and wins this season, and earned the first MLS All-Star selection last month. (USA Today Sports)

"He’s a real unique talent,” says United captain Bobby Boswell. "He’s a big guy, but he’s got good feet, distribution. Even though he's a big guy he can still get down low or up to the corners to make the big time saves. He hasn’t really made any big mistakes -- knock on wood -- that would really test his mental fortitude.”

All of this -- his stats, his confidence, his maturity -- has fans and pundits asking an all-too-familiar question, one that Hamid himself would prefer not to answer: Is Bill Hamid the next great American goalkeeper?

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November 8, 2012, remains perhaps one of the most memorable moments yet of Hamid's professional career.

United were playing the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. They had drawn 1-1 in the first leg at RFK Stadium a week earlier, and now, midway through the second half at Red Bull Arena, the two historical rivals were locked at 0-0 in a dramatic, back-and-forth match that had already been postponed for 24 hours due to a massive snowstorm the day before.

As the game wore on, and chance after chance went begging,  it became clear to everyone that whoever got the first goal would win the series and move on to the Eastern Conference Championship.

Hamid was having a brilliant game, making five saves in the first 65 minutes, including a "wonder save" on Dax McCarty. Then, four minutes later, everything unraveled. 

Hamid brought down Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper in the box, and was shown an immediate red card. He protested wildly to the officials. "Watch the replay!" he shouted at the assistant referee. "Watch the replay!" After he was sent off he watched the remainder of the game on the monitors inside the visitors’ locker room and took to his Twitter account, where he criticized NBC analyst Kyle Martino for agreeing with head referee Mark Geiger's call.

United went on to win the match after Hamid's replacement, Joe Willis, saved Cooper's penalty kick -- a retaken kick after Thierry Henry was whistled for encroachment on the first attempt -- and Nick DeLeon scored a late winner

And in what became a revealing look into Hamid’s passionate personality, he marched up and down the halls of Red Bull Arena bellowing what became a rallying cry for United’s playoff run that year: “They can’t hold us back! They can’t hold us back!”

Those who know him best say those days are fading fast into the past for Hamid, who has matured into one of the steadiest heads in the United locker room since that outburst.

“I think before he was a little bit overenthusiastic,” says United States national team goalkeepers coach Chris Woods, who has worked with Hamid periodically over the past two-and-a-half years. “Now he seems to have calmed himself down a little bit, which obviously is a major factor in being a top goalkeeper.”

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D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen has had a front row seat for Hamid's development, first as his teammate and now as his manager. He's both impressed with the progress Hamid has made recently and demanding of more.  

“Now he needs to focus on not staying where he’s at but continuing that path of every year getting better," Olsen says. "That’s the challenge with Bill. If he can do that, he can play anywhere in the world.”

Hamid has trained twice previously with English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, and has drawn international attention in the past as the next promising American goalkeeper in the line of Kasey KellerBrad FriedelTim Howard and Brad Guzan, all of whom have thrived in the EPL and Europe's other big leagues. 

"I think Bill Hamid can play in any league in the world,” Olsen says. "I think he has that quality and also seems to be at the beginning stages of having that mentality that it takes to be at that type of stage."

Hamid, true to form, plays things closer to the chest. He chuckles and rolls his eyes when asked about his overseas prospects. 

“I’m focused on D.C. United and this team, and continuing to do what it takes to help this team and this club progress and win trophies," he says.

He's always been close to United. He grew up in Annandale, Virginia, a suburb of Washington just a short drive from RFK Stadium, and he grew up watching the great D.C. teams of the late 1990s that were loaded talent and cheered on by the fevered supporters in the Screaming Eagles and the Barra Brava.  

"My father had me at all of these games," he says. "I saw the environment. Back when I came out, it was just all about the team. You had guys like Raul Diaz Arce, Marco [Etcheverry], Eddie Pope, John Harkes. It was just so much about the team back then, and that’s how they achieved so much early success. And you could appreciate that as a kid -- the environment was so lively. My dream was always to be a part of D.C. United."

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Hamid says he DVR'd each of the US national team's games during the World Cup and he still watches them. Says Hamid on his aspirations: "I'm very patient." (USA Today Sports)

Hamid's biggest dream is not related to his club future, but to his international one. He made his international debut in January 2012, in a friendly against Venezuela, but despite several call ups, he has yet to make another appearance. 

Woods and US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann have kept a keen eye on Hamid’s progress with United, and though Woods certainly feels Hamid could head overseas, he’s also quick to suggest that staying in the national team picture requires one thing more than any other: minutes.

“You need to be playing at the highest level that you can possibly get to -- wherever that may be -- whether it’s D.C. United or somewhere else,” Woods said. “You don’t get picked for the men’s senior team if you’re not playing regular first team football. It’s not just the US, that goes without saying in any international football.”

“Obviously, Bill is one of the top goalkeepers in the US and I think all he needs to do is show the level of consistency for his club. The rest of it sort of falls into place.”

Hamid, who says he DVR'd all of the USMNT’s games in Brazil and still regularly watches them, is still clearly down in the US depth chart as the next World Cup cycle begins. Tim Howard's USMNT hiatus will likely help him move up, but Guzan and Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando still sit ahead of him. Then, Hamid's certainly got to contend with the Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson, another equally promising prospect.

“I understand that the World Cup is every four years,” he says. “There are also other tournaments. There are different opportunities, a bunch of matches over here and abroad. I’m very patient. I think really this is all about handling your club business. And that’s what the national team coaches always tell us.

“So if you’re playing well in your club team and you make that your focus and don’t even focus on the national team, you’ll just check your inbox at some point and you’ll get that call up.”