Keeper Bill Hamid became D.C.'s first-ever academy signing.
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Young keeper Hamid climbing the ladder for D.C.

Field players can rise from the bench to earn confidence-building match cameos. But a netminder’s complex responsibilities -- leadership, organization, focus -- typically take years to master and in a position where security and continuity are vital to results, opportunities for substitute appearances come few and far between.

Just ask Chris Seitz, Tally Hall, Josh Saunders or one of the many other talented MLS ‘keepers who’ve spent match after match simmering on the sidelines in recent years -- there are dues to be paid.All of this makes Bill Hamid’s rapid progress with D.C. United that much more noteworthy.

Imposing and athletic, but raw, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound 19-year-old made history at the most tradition-laden club in Major League Soccer in September when he became the first-ever United academy product to sign with the senior team. Given his age and position, little was expected of him in the short term and he didn't see a minute of match action last year despite the team’s chronic turnover between the pipes down the stretch.

But with a diligent mentality in the gym and on the training ground, Hamid seems to have jumped ahead of the curve this offseason and looks well-positioned to secure the backup spot behind Troy Perkins, the veteran shot stopper who returned to United this winter after two years in the Norwegian Tippelaegen.

“Bill has come a long way since when I first saw him as a 16-year-old,” D.C. goalkeeper coach Mark Simpson told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s got great athletic qualities, he’s mature beyond his years and I think this environment has really helped him along. He put in a really good offseason training program to help himself physically, and he’s really now starting to see the benefits of hard work.”

Last month D.C. cut Milos Kocic, a second-round SuperDraft pick who showed promise in several first-team appearances last year but could not haul himself ahead of Hamid on the depth chart during the 2010 preseason. Seeing extra first-team action during Perkins’ stint with the U.S. national team, Hamid has shown well in preseason scrimmages and may be sent out on short-term loans to lower-division clubs to build his match sharpness this year. So while United may well audition other ‘keepers in the coming weeks, their homegrown prospect has given notice that he’s intent on making the most of his substantial potential sooner than later.

“My whole thought process was go in, work hard for the [second] half of the season, put in my work in the offseason and then come back and show that I’m ready in preseason," explained Hamid when asked about his rapid progress to date, "that I can step in and be whatever I need to be, whatever I want to be: the starter or No. 2. Every day is a fight. Every day is going to be a hard day for the goalkeepers, or for everybody, really. There’s spots open, so you have to fight every day to get where you want to be.”

Under Simpson’s watchful eye -- and grueling workout regimen -- Hamid is becoming acclimated to the daily grind at the professional level, and it’s no accident United re-acquired Perkins, one of the club’s hardest-working players in recent memory, to provide a positive influence in that process.

“Troy knows what it takes in terms of being a professional goalkeeper," noted Simpson. "He’s had a taste of Europe and he knows MLS. He knows what it takes to get himself there and hopefully others can learn from him and just take that example, figure out that for themselves as well.”

Hamid moved out of his parents’ house and into a northern Virginia apartment last fall, another sign of maturation, though United’s technical staff already considered him wise beyond his years. Conscious of his own potentially groundbreaking role within the development of the MLS youth-development structure, Hamid passed on European club opportunities in favor of joining his hometown squad, and now he’s eager to blaze a trail for future academy products to follow into Major League Soccer.

“Just for them giving me, this one player, a chance, I feel like it gives all kids in the academy and at every single MLS team the hope,” he explained. “If you work hard enough, I don’t see why more MLS teams can’t start bringing in three, four players a year, if the kids are working hard enough. When they see this, [they know] ‘Somebody’s done it so I can still do it.’”