CARSON, Calif. — How much should we read into the decisions to start Bill Hamid, the most experienced goalkeeper in the US national team's January camp, and then bring on a previously uncapped Zack Steffen to wrap up Sunday's friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Not much. And maybe a lot.
This new era for the US following the failure to qualify for the upcoming World Cup is providing young talent opportunity all over the field, but it's serving as something of a sea change in the nets, where the US could be without an iconic No. 1 goalkeeper for the first time — Tim Howard's post-Brazil break notwithstanding — since Paul Caligiuri's goal kicked off modern soccer in America.
“There's a lot [of goalkeepers on our radar],” US goalkeeper coach Matt Reis told MLSsoccer.com midway through the camp. “That's the one position that's mostly Americans in [MLS], so there's a lot of guys out there. ... It's a new era, a new time, and I still believe that Brad Guzan's a great goalkeeper and still has a future with the national team. Now is the time to unearth and bring forward some of the younger kids.
“We're going to have quite a few opportunities in the next couple of years for guys to get some experience. And that's what we're trying to do.”
Guzan, Howard's primary backup the past decade, is the de facto No. 1 — “I think he's the best goalie that we have right now,” Reis said after Sunday's game — but the Atlanta United goalie will be 37 come 2022, hardly ancient for a netminder but not exactly prime time, either. There's at least a half-dozen keepers, even more, who believe that they can be the future in the US nets.
Zack Steffen | USA Today Sports Images
Hamid, 27, seems the heir apparent. He's been in the picture for nearly a decade — he first trained with the US in 2009 and made his debut in 2012 — and earned his fifth cap in Sunday's game. The 22-year-old Steffen played in a U-20 World Cup, spent two years in Germany, and impressed national team staff with his performance down the stretch and in the playoffs last season with Columbus Crew SC.
They were joined in Southern California by New England Revolution goalkeeper Cody Cropper, 24, another with U-20 World Cup and European experience, and Alex Bono, 23, who was in the nets for Toronto FC's history-making treble last year.
Club Brugge's Ethan Horvath is in the mix, and so is David Bingham, who just moved from the San Jose Earthquakes to the LA Galaxy, and reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year Tim Melia, who would have been in Carson, Reis said, if not for an injury.
The two New York keepers — the Red Bulls' Luis Robles and New York City FC's Sean Johnson — have also been in the fold, although Johnson was last capped in 2014. There's also Mexico-born William Yarbrough, with Club Leon, and Seattle's Swiss-born Stefan Frei “maybe” will get a look, Reis said, once he has citizenship.
Others could, and likely will, emerge.
Hamid and Steffen did well in their halves with not a whole lot to do Sunday. Both made errant passes — Hamid's fed the Bosnians' best chance in the run of play — and both nearly got caught while taking their time upon receiving back passes. Both also made the save that had to be made.
Hamid's was an impressive stop, a mea culpa of sorts after his giveaway fueled a Bosnia chance in the 43rd minute: He made a leg save on Luka Menalo's point-blank shot from just above the six-yard box after Walker Zimmerman lost Tomislav Tomic's low cross under his feet.
All four goalkeepers in camp have much to work on with their clubs. Steffen, Cropper and Bono became their teams' first-choice keepers just last year; all need more games, more minutes, more experience.
“I think you've got to get to around 100 games to really see the ebb and flow of a goalkeeper and see how they're really going to turn out,” Reis said. “These guys all have very good feet, and they all make good decisions with the ball at their feet.
“You look at a guy like Cody, who's got long limbs and takes up a lot of the goal, and his positioning is solid. It's a matter of small, little things. I think Alex has got a lot of potential. He's still a little raw, and I look for him this year to make some big strides. And Zack, he's athletic, he's made some big saves in the playoffs, and in the MLS, the playoffs is where you can really make a name for yourself.”
Cropper, who has grown in his ability to make the proper decisions after leaving England, is looking forward to getting insight from new Revs coach Brad Friedel, part of the country’s legendary goalkeeping fraternity, alongside Howard, Kasey Keller and Tony Meola.
“I don't know how much he's going to be involved with the goalkeepers, but I have a feeling that he will be looking for the best from us,” Cropper said. “He'll be pushing us in video sessions, and he'll be expecting the best from us in training, because he's been there and he's done it.”
Hamid is the seasoned pro, the 'keeper most likely to take over in net when Guzan's time is done, if not sooner. He spent eight seasons at D.C. United, the past seven as the No. 1 goalkeeper, before leaving this offseason for Danish club FC Midtjylland.
“Better goalkeeping training, for me, was something that I needed to bring to my day-to-day regimen, and then on top of that, I needed a new environment,” Hamid said. “I've been in D.C. for a very long time. They've got a lot of great things coming now [with Audi Field opening this summer], but something in my gut was telling me, 'You need to push for the next level.'
“I've had many conversations with Timmy and with Brad, with a lot of guys. There's one thing Timmy always told me: 'Are you going to bet on yourself?' It's a massive challenge that I'm looking forward to, and it's not going to be easy going to Europe and trying to work my way up the European ranks. But I'm there, and I'm going to go for it. I feel at my best right now in terms of moving in the goal and staying calm and being able to read the game, and I think I'm only going to get better.”
Hamid's ability to remain calm in tense situations has grown in the past year or so, and he'll continue working on that with Midtjylland.
“That's something I've preached to him, and I know he's talked to his goalkeeper coach in Denmark about that, too,” Reis said. “Trying to be calm in those situations. I think he's got the enough athletic ability and power, it's just those times where he can be calm and needs to be calm.”
The move, Hamid says, is designed to push him to the next level, and it's made with a specific aim.
“My goal right now is to prove that I want to be the No. 1 goalkeeper for the country,” he said. “When I'm here [with the national team] and when I'm there [in Denmark], it's geared around being No. 1 for the United States men's national team.”