- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

Progress, Bill Hamid observes, is relative. And at 21 years old, the D.C. United goalkeeper is neither satisfied nor disconcerted by his evolution as a player. 

For all the success Hamid has already experienced in a fledging professional career, the thought still clings to his mind, a notion of unhinged potential he says motivates him through every drill on the practice field, set in the weight room and save under the lights.

Having sampled a taste of the U.S. national team, Hamid is starving for more.

“I think about being a part of the USA team every day,” Hamid said. “I’ve got to still realize that I’ve got a lot of time. But I want to be in there now.”

After receiving a series of call-ups to the U.S. squad that culminated in his only international appearance this past January, Hamid since has seen an up-and-down season keep his lofty national team ambitions grounded.

In March, the Annandale native was the starter for the U.S. under-23 squad that failed to qualify for the London Olympics. Once he recovered from an ankle injury suffered in that tournament, he watched from the bench for five games as United backup Joe Willis staked a temporary claim to the starting job.

But since re-entering the lineup May 5, Hamid has missed just one match. While he isn’t immune from uneasy moments, the 6-foot-3 shot-stopper has developed a penchant for bailing out his back line late with result-salvaging saves. During United’s current four-game unbeaten run, his instincts and athleticism have been particularly precious.

“He really wanted to succeed in the Olympics, maybe a tad too much in the sense that he put added pressure on himself,” said assistant coach Pat Onstad, who mentors United’s goalkeepers. “At this stage in the season, he’s definitely put that behind him.”

Still, Hamid remains a fringe player on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s depth chart, with Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and the Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson — a friend Hamid texts regularly — ahead of him in the competition for the third-string role in World Cup qualifying.

Considering Hamid was deemed the Americans’ No. 2 this time last year, it’s been a precipitous drop.

“If I’m not getting call-ups, it’s because of the way I’m playing,” Hamid said. “It’s because of something I’ve done. And if I’m playing to the best of my ability, I know I’m going to get that call-up. It’ll come.”

Added Onstad: “I think he understood a lot of [his earlier call-ups] had to do with trying to get him some Olympic exposure and some confidence going into that stage of his career. But the big thing for him now is to establish himself with the club, which he has done.”

Statistically, Hamid this season finds himself on par with the league’s elite. Among regular starters, his save percentage of 78 leads MLS, while his 1.04 goals against average is third in the league.

Although Onstad said he still is working on communication with Hamid, he lauded his pupil for providing an authoritative enough presence to hold together an injury-riddled back line.

“There are always ups and downs in everybody’s career,” said United midfielder Perry Kitchen, Hamid’s U.S. U-23 teammate. “I think he’s finally finding the form that he’s capable of. If he can keep that up, he’s going to be a big star.”

As a youth, Hamid passed through the RFK Stadium turnstiles and watched United dominate the early days of MLS as a four-time champion and perennial playoff squad.

Now in his fourth campaign, the United academy product still hasn’t seen the postseason as a player. But with United (15-10-6) holding the fourth of five Eastern Conference playoff bids entering Saturday’s match at Toronto FC (5-19-7), the third-to-last game of the season, Hamid feels it’s time to take that long-awaited step forward in his growth.

“Rome isn’t built in a day,” Hamid said. “You have to continue grinding, continue training and doing the right things to get your game to where it needs to be. And I’m still far off from where it needs to be — very, very far off. But I’m happy with the progress I’m making and the focus I’m putting into every single day.”

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