Bill Hamid is, in many ways, a glimpse into American soccer’s future.
As a 21-year-old goalkeeper playing in MLS, he plays a position which the United States has made its own in the past decades.
Continuing the tradition of talented American keepers, Hamid became the youngest goalie in MLS history to win a league game as a 19-year-old in 2010, beating the previous record holder (some guy named Tim Howard).
Hamid’s fast ascent towards success is rooted in his unique position as a player. He was the first D.C. United player to sign with the main team from their academy.
Opting not to go the college route, he went professional early (enrolling at United’s academy in January of 2007) and it has paid off.
“It depends on what you want,” noted Hamid. “Certain players want to get their education under their belt, but other guys just want to jump in the game and start learning as fast as possible, and I decided to take that route. It’s on another level from college, because it’s year-round and the training is fast.”
At a more broad level, Hamid seemed to agree that the academies are another step in building American soccer, saying that “it’s an important step. No knock on the college game, but academies are definitely something that’s going to help the league down the road, the national team as well.”
United’s academy, in particular, has yielded good development (with players like Hamid and Andy Najar).
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This has aided a resurgent D.C. team, which has gone from not qualifying for the playoffs last season to being very much in the hunt in 2012 (United currently have 10 wins to seven losses, with three ties. They also have the second-best goal difference in the Eastern Conference).
“I just feel like we’re all on the same page this year,” said a clearly more confident Hamid. “You know, from players to staff to training staff, everyone is just on the same page, knowing the game plans.
Everything is more focused and professional. And that’s worked out so far this season and we’ve gotten some nice results.”
Indeed, Hamid is the top goalie in the Castrol Index (which tracks and ranks MLS players).
He acknowledged this (and an apparent liking for the ranking system) by saying about Castrol that “It’s important, you want to know how well you stack up against other goalkeepers in the league.
And to have a statistic above the Dan Kennedys and Joe Cannons is pretty cool.”
The National Team and Dealing with Being “Next”
One thing Hamid has already had to deal with is the label of being the so-called “next great American goalie.”
It’s obviously no secret to even the most casual soccer fan that American goalies have always been a source of pride and strength for American soccer. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard (plus many, many others) have all succeeded at the very highest levels.
So, obviously, Hamid, as an extremely gifted 21-year-old keeper, has faced scrutiny and pressure.
He tries to keep it in perspective though.
“I’m thankful for those words and compliments,” says Hamid, “but I don’t really pay attention to it because it’s just talk. It’s kind of like the Jeremy Lin thing, you know? With the whole Linsanity and attention, it gets you off-focus and off-track and I don’t want that to happen.”
He also added that “It’s the hard work that really matters, coming in and grinding and doing your job the right way.”
And on that note, he discussed his time with the U.S. National Team (Hamid first made the senior roster a year ago against Mexico, and made his debut earlier in January against Venezuela).
“I’m very thankful for that opportunity because those guys are top notch. Being among guys like Carlos Bocanegra, and Landon as well, they’re a little bit older than me so just to see how they practice and how they interact with each other off the field. They’re all cool guys to be around and they look out for the young guys as well, so I’m grateful to train with them.”
Dealing with Olympic Disappointment
Yet his time with the U.S. team hasn’t been all good news. With the Olympics kicking off in London, there’s a decidedly empty spot in Team USA: the men’s soccer team, which failed to qualify.
Hamid, a part of the U.S. team which didn’t make it, tries to find the silver lining in his obvious disappointment.
“I’m more of a guy that uses disappointment as motivation, you know I’ll do a couple extra sets in the gym or a couple extra drills on the field, because you just don’t want that feeling of disappointment anymore. And you learn from it. It makes you work harder and it makes you a better person.”
And while he may not be playing against Olympic opponents in England, Hamid will certainly have his hands full when United take on Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday, July 28.
“It’s pretty cool to play against guys like that,” said Hamid. “And for us to be playing against PSG, they have all the money in the world now and it’s going to be a good experience.”
And with star-studded European squads in the U.S. for their preseason tours, it’s not lost on Hamid that eventually that’s where he might want to end up.
“I have my dream of playing in Europe one day and following the top American keepers,” said the D.C. keeper, “but I’m just going to leave that to fate.”
“I’m going to work hard every day and if that’s where I’m meant to be than that’s where I’ll go.”