It’s only natural, given the transformation his club has undergone recently.
While Hamid says the Atlantic Cup remains a massive occasion, “possibly the biggest rivalry in MLS history,” it’s a very different D.C. club that will visit the Red Bulls on Sunday night (7 pm ET | FS1 - full TV & streaming info) than the one he departed for Danish side FC Midtjylland 10 months ago.
“All I’ve ever known is walking out on the field at RFK [Stadium],” Hamid said after training on Wednesday. “Sometimes the crowd was packed, sometimes the crowd was very dry, and that’s OK. You have your ups and downs.
“But now it just feels like a completely different club, I can’t lie. It’s a different atmosphere, it’s a different feel, different locker room, different mentality. I think that we’re playing a different style of football. So a lot has changed, and that’s pretty refreshing to see and to feel.”
Ironically, the return on loan of Hamid, who leads all current D.C. players in club appearances after making two so far this season, is the latest step in that reinvention.
The July opening of Audi Field and the signing of former England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney have been the highlights. And while Hamid had not sealed his own return yet, he knew Rooney was heading to Washington as of late May, when the two dined together in Philadelphia while Hamid was on US national team duty.
“He said yeah, he’s coming,” Hamid recalls. “He talked about being excited about it. He seemed very calm when I had a talk with him. … He’s not crazy loud or crazy energetic, but he’s cool, calm and collected, and I could feel that at the dinner.”
That said, there have been more changes than just a new stadium and a new star. If coach Ben Olsen chooses the same starting XI as D.C.’s last two matches, it will include five players not with the club when Hamid left for Europe. Only three — Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare and Luciano Acosta — were on D.C.'s books prior to the 2017 MLS Secondary Transfer Window.
“They’ve had the years where they’ve had some stars on their team,” Hamid said. “And you’ve seen it on the field, they’re tough to play against. And we’ve had the same. And now I think it’s going to be very equal. I think the way that we are playing as a group right now is bigger than any one individual player, and I think that it’s the same for them.”
Hamid had not yet returned to D.C. in this year’s first Atlantic Cup fixture, a 1-0 Red Bulls win on July 25 at Audi Field, and a not-yet-fully-fit Rooney played only 33 minutes.
Rooney has played all but four minutes for D.C. since, while the Black-and-Red have gone 4-0-1. He's also taken the captain's armband, and Hamid is excited to see how that translates to Sunday's fixture.
“He’s played in big games, so this is no different for him,” Hamid said. “He can rise to the occasion. And I think he’s teaching a lot of these young guys how to do the same. Having him in our corner, I think it’s going to be very beneficial for us in trying to go up there and get a tough result.”