Ever since Bill Hamid was a teenage phenom, he’s been on the shortlist to turn out to be the subsequent nice American goalkeeper. Now is perhaps his second.
When you’ve watched D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid play soccer, you’ve invariably witnessed a save that continues to confound you. There are those the place he’ll erase the space between himself and the far publish with such velocity that even probably the most curling, dipping, dagger of a shot will get slapped away with ease. Or, extra bafflingly, there are the saves the place he’ll cost off his line and rework the varied elements of his physique—arms, legs, shins, chest, head, knees, ft—right into a sliding Swiss military knife of last-ditch salvation. “He made himself big,” the announcer will say, an evidence that fails to account for the seemingly magnetic connection between Hamid’s six-foot-three body and the ball, denied its long-awaited reunion with the web.
My favourite Hamid save is one like this, made towards Thierry Henry in 2014 in the course of the Frenchman’s stint with the New York Purple Bulls. Henry, having crept previous the United protection, took a shot from simply past the six-yard field, a rising, right-footed blast that by some means Hamid managed to find and swat disdainfully away although the space between his hand and Henry’s foot was minuscule and it was not attainable for him to have had time to see the ball, assess its flight path, and know that he would wish to completely prolong his left arm earlier than the shot handed him by—which is strictly what he did as he slid to the bottom in a millisecond of time that didn’t exist.
Afterward, as he popped up and dismembered his defenders with a verbal barrage that I think about made them query not simply that one defensive lapse but in addition their choice to pursue the game professionally, all that Henry might do was stand befuddled—ever so Gallicly—arms on his hips, pondering the damaged legal guidelines of physics.
You’d name it luck in the event you didn’t see Hamid do it so typically.
If Bill Hamid is that this good at stopping the ball from going into the web, you is perhaps questioning why—eight years after signing his first skilled contract together with his hometown membership, D.C. United—he’s nonetheless enjoying in Main League Soccer. It seems that he thinks about this, too. “I never thought I’d still be in MLS by the time I was 26,” he tells me. “Not at all. I thought I’d be long gone.”
He’s not alone in considering this. When Hamid joined United as a young person, many anticipated his keep in MLS to be temporary. A uncooked and ruthlessly efficient shot stopper, he wowed scouts and coaches alike. “He covered the goal like nobody I’d ever seen before,” recollects his former United goalkeeping coach Pat Onstad. “The funny thing was, at that stage he wasn’t even fit.”
With that expertise got here a cauldron of strain to earn minutes with the nationwide group and to signal with a European membership. Information headlines amplified the expectation that Hamid would quickly cross the Atlantic on his strategy to turning into the subsequent nice American goalkeeper. “Bill Hamid Ready to Take Over the Reins,” stated SBNation in 2011. “Hamid: U.S. Soccer’s Next Great Goalkeeper,” added the Sporting Information that very same yr.
Since then, Hamid has grown into probably the greatest gamers in MLS (he was named the league’s prime goalkeeper in 2014) and is perpetually on the U.S. nationwide staff bubble. However he has not but reached the heights that so many predicted he would when his profession started.
If Hamid is concerned by this, it doesn’t present. We’re having lunch on the patio of Chaplin’s, a restaurant within the hipster-fied Shaw neighborhood of Washington. It’s a flawless April day, a couple of weeks after the cherry blossoms ushered spring into the nation’s capital, and Hamid is basking within the afterglow of back-to-back United victories, sporting a white T-shirt and designer sun shades.
We’ve simply come from a photograph shoot the place Hamid gamely donned a makeshift trash-bag skirt to maintain his shorts clear whereas individuals squirted his naked chest and head with multicolor facepaint. Given his intense on-the-field persona (“He’s an intimidating guy,” confirms United defender Steve Birnbaum once I ask about Hamid’s mid-game tongue lashings), one may assume he wouldn’t be up for such shenanigans, however off-the-field Hamid’s eyes venture a playful confidence.
On the best way to the restaurant, we handed the cryotherapy middle the place he goes for additional restoration after matches. Hamid ducked inside and greeted each employees member by identify. All through the day, I’ll watch him commit extra random acts of kindness: providing to assist clear up after the photograph shoot; holding open a door for a person on crutches; choosing up a tray dropped by a waiter. Beneath the swagger, there’s a big reservoir of empathy in Hamid, a real concern for the individuals near him.
At occasions, it can really feel as if he’s interviewing me. He’ll ask about my writing course of, what I wish to prepare dinner, and—memorably—if I’ve ever used the courting app Tinder. I confess that it may be arduous to satisfy individuals. “Is it?” he replies. A understanding smile confirms the apparent: He has by no means struggled to satisfy ladies. “I learned from Chris Pontius [a former United teammate],” he jokes.
However why is Hamid nonetheless in Washington when he possesses the bodily instruments to be enjoying nearly anyplace? The reply is complicated, however it has its roots in understanding how he handled the pressures he confronted as a younger footballer. Again then, he seen his profession as a collection of stepping stones—the nationwide staff, a small European membership, after which a bigger one—on the inevitable path to superstardom.
“I think one of Bill’s problems is that he wanted it all too quickly,” says Kevin Payne, the previous president of D.C. United, who signed Hamid to his first contract in 2009. “[Young American players] get a lot of people encouraging them that this is a brief waystation to Europe. It does not serve them well.”
Early on, Hamid struggled to develop the coaching habits that might maximize his athletic means, and his temper and focus would fluctuate with every efficiency. “I remember in the early years he was very volatile,” says longtime United coach Ben Olsen. “It was a lot for him to handle the professional game and the pressures on the field, and sometimes all the distractions off the field.”
It was round this time that Onstad, the goalkeeper coach, refused to let Hamid follow after he arrived late to a coaching session. “He didn’t understand it and didn’t quite agree with it, so we had a good heated debate,” says Onstad. “The biggest battle for Bill was for him just to be able to realize that this is my profession and I need to treat it as such.”
Once I ask Hamid concerning the incident, he denies that he was late and believes that Onstad kicked him out to maintain his ego in examine. “I think he did it before something happened where I showed that my head was too big.”
Hamid’s uncooked expertise and head-scratching saves earned him nationwide workforce caps, abroad consideration, and accolades. He made his U.S. debut in 2012, retaining a clear sheet towards Venezuela. In 2011 and once more in 2013, he went on trial with West Bromwich Albion. In 2014, he was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Yr. However premature accidents, paired with inconsistency in aim, prevented him from reaching the heights that so many, himself included, had predicted.
“I was still immature in the league.” Hamid says. “I just got out there and made saves. Other than that, it just happened.”
In 2015—regardless of some European curiosity—Hamid opted to stay with United, signing a brand new contract that made him one of many highest-paid goalkeepers in MLS. He explains the choice in an sudden means, referencing not what he was capable of obtain for himself however as an alternative what he was capable of present for his household.
Then got here the knee accidents that required three operations to deal with, the final of which eliminated 15 % of the meniscus from his proper knee. Within the course of, Hamid missed consecutive nationwide staff camps and fell even additional down the depth chart. “Some guys throughout their careers, the timing is never right when it comes to international soccer,” says Olsen. “Bill’s been one of those where I think the timing of some of his setbacks has not been good.”
It has all mixed—the accidents, the awards, the nationwide group caps, the spectacular saves, and the psychological errors—to supply a really totally different Bill Hamid than the one who got here into the league at 18 and felt he can be staying just for a couple of seasons. Now, at 26, he believes he’s simply starting to determine who he’s as each a participant and an individual.
“I’m starting to understand more and more what life is really about,” he says. “As a kid, you’re going a million miles per hour, and you don’t know that certain things are going to happen to you that are going to set your path on a different course than what you expected.”
He’s been studying Relentless by Tim Grover—Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s former coach—a ebook he credit for educating him to tune out something past the speedy process at hand. “You can’t corrupt your mind with ‘if not,’” he explains. “I feel like when you start thinking about that it’s going to be detrimental to your success. Like, ugh, man, if I don’t play well this weekend I’m not going to make it. I won’t get called up. You can’t put that shit in your mind because then you’ve actually made it something.”
The guide appeared mysteriously someday at his locker. He requested his household, his coaches, his teammates, and his buddies in the event that they have been answerable for sending it, however nobody has admitted to being the supply. “Somebody felt the need to order this book, package it, and FedEx it to me, to my locker,” he says, sensing destiny’s hand within the supply.
The brand new mind-set has produced a calmer, extra balanced Hamid. He’s nonetheless intense on the pitch and maintains main ambitions to play overseas and with the nationwide workforce, however he has no regrets concerning the decisions he made early in his profession. “You have to ride the wave,” he explains. “And once you ride it and you see that everything is going to be fine, you continue on with the goal of moving up to the next level in your career.”
That philosophy was not one which Jürgen Klinsmann agreed with. Throughout his 5 years with the nationwide staff, earlier than his dismissal in late 2016, Klinsmann preached that gamers ought to by no means permit circumstances to dictate their progress, and always implored them to go away their consolation zones and earn time at greater and higher golf equipment. In 2016, he publicly criticized Hamid and different gamers for failing to develop as he’d hoped. “What happened to the Bill Hamids, the Sean Johnsons, the Breck [sic] Sheas, the Mix Diskeruds?” he informed the Wall Road Journal. “You go through it and we get back to our old thing where we say, ‘Hey guys, talent is only half of it.’”
Hamid denies that Klinsmann’s criticism bothered him, however he believes his determination to stick with United in 2015 harm his standing with the German. And he challenges Klinsmann’s notion that progress can solely occur in uncomfortable environments. “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.”
He then solutions the query that Klinsmann posed—What occurred to Bill Hamid?—his voice rising. “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.”
A number of hours earlier than our lunch, I watched as a photographer labored Hamid by means of quite a lot of poses. He was seated, shirtless, and the photographer was shading items of Hamid’s face in bands of vibrant mild, hiding the remaining in shadow. Hamid was targeted and calm, warming to the room, the lights, and the shutter flash, and he began telling tales concerning the films he’s seen, the music he likes, and the time he noticed Jürgen Klinsmann land a helicopter at a U.S. nationwide workforce follow wanting like a beach-blond Tom Cruise.
It’s solely when the brand new Kendrick Lamar music “Humble” comes on, although, that Hamid ignited. He moved to the staccato beat, his eyes sharpening, his muscle tissues rising tense, every motion brash and daring. In succession, he wagged his tongue, flexed his well-tattooed biceps, and stared defiantly into the lens.
Hamid’s transformation jogged my memory of a second within the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs when D.C. United confronted off towards the New York Purple Bulls. Within the second leg, Hamid, then solely 22, was despatched off for taking down Purple Bulls attacker Kenny Cooper. He stormed off the pitch and headed for the locker room. There, cameras rolling, he delivered a primal roar. “C’mon!” he shouted, slapping his naked chest, “you can’t hold us back!” Within the locker room, he doubled down. “They can’t hold us back. That is it. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
5 years later, it’s arduous to think about Hamid uttering these phrases. He acknowledges now that staying balanced, calm, and managed helps him greater than burning scorching. “Everybody knows how fucking intense I get,” he says. “But, at the same time, you have to have a sense of calm because if you don’t you’re going to lose your fucking head.”
This Bill Hamid—model 2.zero—has discovered consolation in a newfound appreciation for routine. His weekly schedule now consists of wholesome consuming, therapeutic massage, and cryotherapy on prime of normal coaching periods with United. “Most of the challenge with Bill is holding him back, making sure he’s not doing three workouts a day, or doing some power yoga thing at midnight,” says Olsen. “I think he’s understanding now that he has to kind of train with his mind a little bit more than his body.”
Even together with his budding Zen-like mind-set, Hamid nonetheless harbors massive ambitions. He comes closest to admitting his objectives when speaking about his private life. Just lately, he ended a relationship that he felt distracted him from his profession. “It started to stress me out a lot,” he says. “Until I feel like I’ve accomplished what I want to accomplish, I should just stay single and enjoy it.”
If Hamid goes to make the bounce to the subsequent degree, the second is quick approaching. For the primary time in years he’s wholesome, and he’s enjoying a few of the greatest soccer of his life. At 26, he’s nonetheless an adolescent in goalkeeper years. He’s additionally within the ultimate yr of his United contract, opening up the potential for a free switch to Europe when the present MLS season ends. “I would certainly argue that he’s the best goalkeeper in the MLS,” says Olsen. “On the international stage, I think that’s something we’ll find out when and if he gets that chance.”
That probability could possibly be coming this summer time. Hamid was named to the U.S. Gold Cup squad, returning to the nationwide workforce after the lengthy, injury-laden layoff. Now underneath new supervisor Bruce Area, he’ll compete for enjoying time with the staff’s established keepers, hoping to make an impression forward of the 2018 World Cup. [Editor’s note: Since this piece was first published in issue 11, Hamid started one match for the U.S. during the Gold Cup, shutting out Nicaragua in a 2-0 victory.]
“It feels really good, seeing my name on that list,” he confesses, and makes his case for enjoying time with attribute confidence. “I don’t believe that there’s any goalkeeper better than me in this league, in this country, period. I don’t believe it.”
With Area on the helm, enjoying in Europe can also be not a prerequisite to incomes nationwide workforce minutes. “Bruce respects our league in a big way,” says Olsen, providing a not-too-subtle swipe at Area’s predecessor. “That’s not as big a factor I find with players now, whether you’re staying or going.”
It’s going to take a compelling supply to pry him away from Washington. He lately bought a condominium within the metropolis, and he’s fiercely pleased with having helped his household, immigrants from Sierra Leone, set up roots within the space.
“We’re always going to want him here and be a part of this club,” says Olsen, who over eight seasons has watched Hamid mature from a teenage phenom into the face of D.C. United. He says he’ll help any selection Hamid makes about his future. “You can’t be afraid of the unknown and what’s out there, and pushing yourself to go to Europe, which has always been a kind of a dream of his.”
After a day spent with Bill Hamid, it’s clear that he—like all of us—holds contradictory concepts. He stays as formidable as he was when he joined the league, however he’s discovered that he’s a greater participant and individual when he’s targeted on the current. He’s resolved this pressure with a easy answer: Stay within the second, and belief that in doing so he’ll obtain his objectives. “On the field, am I ready? One hundred percent. I could go over [to Europe] and ball out if I wanted to. But I can’t think about what’s next. The agent does all that bull crap. I just step into the goal and lace my gloves up. That’s what I do. I make saves, man.”