Hamid's improvements key in United's comeback season
Goalkeepers are either great or they are the goats. If a team wins, goalkeepers are often praised for making one or two fantastic stops. However, if the team loses, any goals scored are often dissected to death with most of the criticism levied against the goalkeeper. It is a position that is often only given to veteran players who eight, nine, ten years experience.
For the past four years, D.C. United have gone against this traditional view willing to take their lumps with young goalkeeper Bill Hamid behind the pipes. Although Hamid and United have taken their lumps, both look to be on the upswing as the club has employed to his talents to great success and to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. After a disastrous 2013 campaign which saw the team give a league-record fifty-nine goals, Hamid and the United defense have turned things around allowing only nineteen goals thus far in the 2014 campaign, fourth lowest in MLS.
While not all of Hamid's early seasons were that bad (he was a major contributor to the club's 2012 playoff run) he has been learning while on the job. At just 19-years-old, Hamid became the youngest MLS goalkeeper ever to win a match when he helped D.C. United defeat Sporting Kansas City 2-1. Over the next four years, Hamid would show flashes of brilliance mixed with instances of youthful frustration (the penalty against the New York Red Bulls in the 2012 MLS Playoffs immediately springs to mind).
2014 has been a much different year for Hamid. Aside from still being able to make spectacular saves (he has been nominated for MLS Save of the Week four times) it is his understanding of the game that has improved. In the club's 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, Hamid was certainly able to keep the team in the game by making a reaction save on a shot by Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon in injury time. But it was his ability to slow the game down and allow his teammates to set up that really changed the dynamic of the game.
The small things are starting to show up on the stat sheet. Hamid is currently in fourth-place among starting goalkeepers with a Goals Against average of 1.14. He also has saved seventy-four percent of the shots taken at him, which is tied for second in all of MLS.
“He’s been very good all year long. It’s always fun to watch these guys grow over the years," said D.C. United head Coach Ben Olsen after the match. "Bill is one of those guys on and off the field who has continually grown in front of our eyes.
Of course, Hamid has only been able to make such leaps in progress because of an improved defensive line. In 2013, Hamid would often find himself all by himself on an opponent's counter-attack needing to make a miracle save to avert disaster. With the additions of Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, and Steve Birnbaum, United added players that can mark center forwards and stay back on counters.
Such additions have added stability to the team's spine and given Hamid time to breathe and space to make more prudent decisions. This was evident in the club's first road victory in 2014, a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union. The Union pressed for large portions of the match but were either thwarted by Hamid's efforts as a goalkeeper or the response to back up Hamid by the United defense. Having defenders who can make the concise clear or the well-placed tackle to change possession can be as critical as a decisive save. The additions along the back-line have proven to be critical in Hamid's maturation as a player.
The tricky thing about goalkeeping is that even if you start well, a season can be seen as a disappointment if results do not hold. Given United's recent run of form and commitment to defense, Bill Hamid will have every opportunity to turn the corner and become one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. How he continues to develop his game, work on the nuances on the position, and deal with the pressure of being one of the top goalkeepers in the league will play a large factor in United's success. The first forty-five has been a success, but the next forty-five will be even more interesting to watch.