Photograph courtesy of DC United’s website.
If you’re a parent, chances are you know the drill: Fortified with ample supplies of juice boxes and orange wedges, you pile into the car too early on a Saturday morning en route to a nondescript grassy field somewhere in your town to unleash your child on a youth soccer game. For the Hamid family, that grassy field was Round Tree Park in Annandale, Virginia. Bill Hamid started playing Mighty Mite soccer there when he was five. “It was just a house league,” recalls Hamid. “We didn’t really know much about the game. We were just going out there to have a good time and run around with friends.”
Few there could have imagined that 16 years later Bill Hamid would be playing soccer for a living—and that he wouldn’t have to leave his hometown to do it.
Hamid can hardly be called a Mighty Mite anymore. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound goalkeeper is a physical specimen. His size is complemented by lightning-quick reflexes and a set of uncanny soccer instincts—skills that have made him one of the most coveted goalie prospects in the world. Hamid has received flirtations from some of the top clubs in Europe, but the 21-year-old concedes there was something poetic about going pro with DC United, his hometown team.
“It’s a dream,” he says. “I mean, I was at the games. I was watching the Marco Etcheverrys, the Jaime Morenos, the Raúl Díaz Arces, so for me to get the contract—to go from being in the crowd to being on the field—is very special.”
Hamid is not the first local product to play for DC United (Remember Freddy Adu? He came out of Rockville), but he is the first player to sign a contract with United’s first team having come through the franchise’s developmental academy for youth players. DC United Academy gathers elite teenage soccer prospects from the Washington area and trains them together under the tutelage of the team’s technical staff. The goal for most is to earn a college scholarship. After three years of working with Hamid, the big club came calling with a better offer.
“It’s so cool,” says United head coach Ben Olsen, who was still a player for the Black and Red when Hamid was a rookie. “For him to grow up with the team and now to play here must be such a special feeling. I never had that luxury. DC United didn’t exist when I was growing up.”
Hamid started 28 games for United last year, posting seven shutouts. He was once again between the pipes for the team’s 2012 opener Saturday night against Sporting Kansas City, a game United might have lost by a score far worse than 1–0 had it not been for Hamid’s brilliance.
Now this summer, Hamid has a chance to fulfill yet another goal: playing in the Olympics.
The US national team is keen on Hamid. They called him up for the first time last fall and gave him his first international start this January against Venezuela. Additionally, given the guidelines that require Olympic rosters to contain no more than three players older than 23, Hamid is the frontrunner to be the US keeper in London.
“I realize the gravity of what’s at stake here. To be in the Olympics means you’re a world-class athlete, so for me to be a part of that is something I would cherish,” says Hamid.
Ironically, the only man who might derail Hamid’s Olympic dream is his good friend and mentor Tim Howard.
The two goalies have developed a close bond. Howard, as most American soccer fans know, is a 33-year-old veteran who has been the backbone of the US national team for the past decade. He now plays for Everton FC in the English Premier League, having spent five seasons with the iconic British club Manchester United. Howard has been a source of inspiration for Hamid. “He was a young African-American goalkeeper who made it to the big time—who made it to the biggest team in the world. And I was like, ‘If he can make it, why not me?’” Hamid says.
Hamid talks and texts with Howard frequently. He usually reaches out to the veteran on Thursdays and Fridays, hoping to pick his brain before a Saturday night game. They don’t discuss the fact that if Howard is picked as one of the three over-23 roster members for the US team in London, it will likely derail Hamid’s Olympic dream.
Regardless of how things shake out for London 2012, chances are Hamid will be seeing the business end of a European soccer pitch sometime in the future. Before he signed with United in 2009, he was aggressively pursued by Celtic FC, only to have a visa problem scuttle the deal. Then this past offseason, he signed a ten-day trial with English Premier League club West Bromwich. Much as Hamid relishes playing in his figurative backyard, he is feeling the pull of an internal imperative to test himself on an even higher level.
“Hopefully with some more seasoning, I can make it to the big leagues and earn the big bucks, but mostly just make a name for myself,” he says.
When this reporter pointed out that calling Europe “the big leagues” could be construed as an implication that MLS is something less than big, Hamid backtracked—sort of: “No, no, no, no, no. MLS is a great league. It’s a culture here now. MLS is definitely on its way up. It’s a promising league.”
At 21, Hamid deserves a little leeway for straying off message during an interview—just as his coach believes he deserves a little leeway when a ball gets past him into the back of the net. Olsen says Hamid’s greatest flaw might be his refusal to accept any in himself. That perfectionism has served the young goalie well, but places undue pressure on a man whose job comes with more than enough of it to begin with. “He needs to breathe every now and then,” says Olsen. “He needs to realize he’s got a wonderful job and a great opportunity ahead of him, not to get too high, not to get too low, just to keep rolling with it and trust that he’s going to be a great goalkeeper.”