- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Listed at 6 feet 3 inches, 225 pounds, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid presents an imposing figure between the posts. The shot-stopper’s reputation as a fiery, vocal competitor who wears his emotion on his sleeve only enhances the effect.

During United’s 3-0 win at Toronto FC on Saturday, Hamid’s presence anchored a young defense that featured three rookies for most of the second half as D.C. protected its first shutout of the year.

“He was definitely commanding back there, letting us know where we needed to be,” said right back Chris Korb, one of United’s first-year defenders. “It’s always good to see your goalie getting up and yelling at people.”

Forget that Hamid is just a 20-year-old in his second professional season. His handling of such weighty responsibility belies his age - a characteristic he couldn’t take more pride in.

“No matter what, I’m going to try to be the No. 1 leader on the field,” Hamid said. “If I’m the youngest guy on the field, I’m going to try to be the leader. That should always be every goalkeeper’s mentality.”

Hamid, who has allowed one goal in two appearances since returning from injury this season, will look to further establish himself as United’s starter in net Thursday night when D.C. faces French star Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls in a nationally televised rivalry match (dubbed the Atlantic Cup) at RFK Stadium.

The Annandale native has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence with D.C. In 2009, he became the first United player to progress from the club’s youth academy and sign with the first team. When he debuted last year, he bested current U.S. national team staple Tim Howard’s record as the youngest goalkeeper to win an MLS contest.

He went on to start eight games before September shoulder surgery cut short his rookie campaign. In December, United traded veteran Troy Perkins to the Portland Timbers, paving the way for Hamid to assume the starting role this season.

That plan, however, hit a snag. Although Hamid aggressively rehabilitated, the club was cautious about rushing its blue-chip talent back onto the field.

Enter United’s insurance policy: 43-year-old Pat Onstad, an all-time MLS great who had joined D.C. as the club’s goalkeepers coach, only to abruptly resume his playing career midway through the preseason when the team signed him to a short-term contract.

Coach Ben Olsen subsequently gave Onstad, the oldest player in league history, the nod for United’s first three games while Hamid continued to work his way back, a development greeted with some disappointment by the young player.

“I’m a stubborn guy,” Hamid said. “In the offseason, I really sat down and made a promise to myself. I made it my No. 1 goal to be in goal the opening day of the season. Unfortunately, I didn’t make that goal. But you have to look out for the team, and Pat was the best option for the team at that time.”

That setback, it turns out, was a brief hiccup for Hamid. After impressing in a U.S. Open Cup qualifying match for United on April 6, he returned to MLS action three days later, taking over Onstad’s spot for a 1-1 tie against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Manning a position where many players peak closer to age 30, or even 40, than 20, Hamid acknowledged he’s “a baby still.” With that in mind, Onstad’s tutelage as a player-coach becomes all the more crucial.

“In a lot of ways they’re opposites, in terms of what kind of goalkeepers they are,” Olsen said. “Some of the things that Pat can teach Bill - if he can get a good grasp of those things, the sky is the limit for Bill because the athletic ability is obviously there. But what made Pat so special was the mental side of being a goalkeeper, and he’s going to give that to Bill, day in, day out, and hopefully make Bill the goalkeeper we all want to see.”

Hamid said he eventually wants “to do big things” - most notably, become the next U.S. national team goalkeeper. Having signed a new contract with United in March, he hopes to turn such lofty ambition into reality while making his mark in D.C.

“I still think I have a lot to prove [to the coaches and front office],” Hamid said. “I want to leave 100 percent confidence and faith in their minds, from today until the end of my contract, that I can be the guy to lead. I want to be the guy in goal every single day, every single game.”

NOTE: Tickets for the July 30 game between Manchester United and FC Barcelona at FedEx Field will go on sale Thursday at 9 a.m. via Ticketmaster.

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