The search for the next great American goalkeeper has been a point of contention at least since Tim Howard was dropped from the Everton starting lineup in early 2016. Even before that, as Howard entered his late 30s, there had been speculation about who would replace him. Brad Guzan is the clear no. 2 keeper behind Howard for now, even starting in the team’s 1-1 draw at El Azteca in June. Though Guzan has the cache of having played in Europe for nearly a decade, he never played at as high of a level as Howard and his recent move back to Major League Soccer seems to show that from a competition standpoint, his career peaked in seasons past.
Other names have popped up in the discussion about who should be between the sticks for the USMNT. They include: David Bingham, Cody Cropper, Sean Johnson, Zach Steffen, William Yarbrough, and Ethan Horvath. So far none of those players have stepped up even to claim the backup role from Guzan. One though is conspicuously not on that list, a player who was long thought capable to replacing Howard when the time came: Bill Hamid.
The DC United netminder has been one of the most frustrating American talents to ever emerge out of Major League Soccer. He first appeared as a raw shot stopper while still a teenager, but injuries and immaturity have blocked his development and prevented him from making a jump abroad. Hamid sat down with Andrew Helms of Eight by Eight Magazine to discuss his career and how he has grown as a player both in terms of talent and maturity.
Much of the narrative about Hamid’s career has been built around not living up to expectations. It is a feeling that he acknowledges, as he told Eight by Eight, saying, “I never thought I’d still be in MLS by the time I was 26.” Hamid’s early callups to the USMNT in his early 20s and interest from clubs like West Bromwich Albion in 2014 made it seem like he was destined for bigger and better things by this point in his career. So far things haven’t panned out that way but the explanation for it isn’t as simple it seems.
There are dozens of reasons that an athlete, or any professional, takes the career path that they do. For soccer players there is ambition, egos fueled by agents and entourages, and of course financial gain. Things have been different for American players seeking to go abroad. MLS offers the lure of higher wages, being nearby friends and family, and the stability of consistent playing time. Jurgen Klinsmann constantly framed MLS as being an unchallenging league and urged players to fight for playing time at the highest level. He even named Hamid as failing to live up to expectations, as the article notes, saying, “What happened to the Bill Hamids, the Sean Johnsons, the Breck [sic] Sheas, the Mix Diskeruds?’ he told the Wall Street Journal. ‘You go through it and we get back to our old thing where we say, ‘Hey guys, talent is only half of it.’”
It turns out that his assumptions, in Hamid’s case at least, were only half of it. For the majority of players in MLS, soccer is not a spectacularly lucrative professional sport to play. Hamid, whose family emigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone, offers a sharp rebuttal the question what happened to Bill Hamid, saying:
“He provided for his family. His mother was able to eat, have a roof over her head, because of what happened to Bill Hamid. His little sister was able to enroll into a private school and get a good education because of what happened to Bill Hamid. Whatever happened to Bill Hamid,” he concludes, “I think he’s doing all right for himself.”
This exchange also points out that in Klinsmann’s constant psychological battle with players, what he may have intended to be motivation and encouragement really showed that he was out of touch with his team.
Hamid also acknowledged that while his physical talent was undeniable, the mental aspect of his game was lacking. Early in his career, coaches had to send him the message that he was a professional and needed to act like it, at one point he was even held out of practice. Hamid realized that his immaturity was due to looking too far ahead into the future and not focusing on staying present in the moment.
That doesn’t mean that he isn’t ambitious and that a move to Europe isn’t on the horizon, rather it means that he is trying to improve his game in MLS week in and week out. Hamid put it like this, “If you’re thinking about going to Europe, then you’re probably not going to go to Europe. You have to think about making yourself better, and that’s what I wake up and do every single morning.”
One other aspect of Hamid’s game looks like it is also being stitched together at the right time, his health. After suffering several knee injuries in the past few seasons requiring surgery, he seems to be back and fully recovered. His health and the recent changes that Hamid has made to the mental approach to his game may pay off as his contract with DC United ends at the end of this season. Physically, his talent has always been there but with an approved mental approach to the game, Hamid may finally be ready to move away from MLS and answer the question of who will fill Tim Howard’s gloves once the veteran retires.