HARRISON, N.J. — While D.C. United’s two road trips this season haven’t exactly produced inspired soccer from the visitors, one thing has become clear: With Bill Hamid in goal, United always have a chance.
While Hamid, despite his best efforts, couldn’t carry United to a result in Houston to open the season, he did secure a fortunate scoreless draw for his club Saturday at the New York Red Bulls with a dominating performance in net. His 67th-minute denial of Tim Cahill and stoppage-time stop on Brandon Barklage were particularly remarkable.
As coach Ben Olsen said, Hamid is “a new man” after getting a recall to the U.S. national team in January. Defender Brandon McDonald also talked about his increasing maturity. It’s still early, but this could very well be the year that Hamid, 22, puts it all together and truly becomes an elite MLS goalkeeper.
Here are some of my other observations from Red Bull Arena on Saturday:
• United had all sorts of problems dealing with New York’s high pressure. Fabian Espindola ran at the back line throughout while wingers Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander also forced D.C. into a few unnecessary giveaways. And former United midfielder Dax McCarty was dominant, completing a game-high 66 out of 75 passes while also picking up six interceptions and recovering 12 balls. Having Dwayne De Rosario look rusty in his first start since early September didn’t help United’s cause.
“It’s about options, it’s about wanting the ball, it’s about quality of passing, holding the ball up,” Olsen said. “There’s a lot to work on with this group. … I was pleased with the fight and the commitment and all those things. But from the soccer side, we need to get a lot better — in particular our midfield.”
With New York’s attack largely flowing through the left side in the first half, going at right back James Riley, Olsen made the halftime adjustment of swapping Riley and Chris Korb.
“Korb looked like he had his legs today and he was strong and he was active,” Olsen said. “So we put him over there to deal with the extra numbers where Henry was floating.”
• Center backs Dejan Jakovic and McDonald enjoyed a second-straight steady game together, doing well to hold their ground as wave after wave of New York attack came at them. Although New York forwards Thierry Henry and Espindola certainly got their chances (with Espindola hitting the bar twice), United’s centerback partnership did what it needed to do.
“I think it was sound defending, honestly,” Hamid said. “If you look at the whole game, minute-by-minute, the center backs and the outside backs stuck in and did a great job limiting Henry and Espindola.”
• With United at 1-1-1 and showing signs of vulnerability after a quiet offseason, it seems safe to say D.C. will be shopping as the season goes on.
“We need some pieces,” Olsen said. “I love my group, I love what they’re about. But in this league, you’re always looking to get better.”
• With Olsen, the Red Bulls’ Mike Petke and Toronto FC’s Ryan Nelsen all in the MLS coaching ranks, three players from United’s 2004 MLS Cup-winning side are now competing against each other in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday marked the first clash between longtime friends Olsen and Petke. While there were snowy conditions in Harrison, bringing to mind last fall’s playoff game at Red Bull Arena that got postponed by a nor’easter, Olsen didn’t feel ashamed bundling up in a coat and hat while Petke only wore a suit.
“Well we’re not the ones who canceled the game last year when it was snowing,” he pointed out.