HOUSTON — Long considered a rising star in the U.S. Soccer program, Bill Hamid touched down in Houston this past weekend ahead of one of the biggest matches the Americans have played in recent memory: A Copa America Centenario semifinal against top-ranked Argentina.
But as the U.S. national team prepared for Tuesday’s match at sprawling NRG Stadium, Hamid found himself playing eight miles up the road at the modest confines of BBVA Compass Stadium.
It was there that Hamid backstopped D.C. United to a 0-0 draw against the Houston Dynamo. Making his third start of the season after January surgery on his right knee, Hamid had been omitted from Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster for the Copa America and left to regain sharpness on the MLS stage.
“I felt a lot of pressure because I wanted to get back as soon as possible and stake whatever claim I could for the Copa America roster,” Hamid said. “When that didn’t happen, for some reason I just sat back and it felt like a lot of bricks off my shoulders. I’m just happy that I’m back in goal now.”
His presence certainly was a welcome one for United (4-5-6) on Saturday. While backup Travis Worra has performed admirably this season, allowing 10 goals in 11 matches, Hamid already has delivered stunning saves to secure a pair of road shutouts since returning to the lineup last month.
“It’s always tough for me to judge Bill because I just expect greatness all the time,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “It doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it for the last few years.”
Although Hamid wasn’t overly busy for most of United’s draw with the Dynamo, he came up big to tip a Will Bruin shot off the post in the 50th minute. The 25-year-old then saved his best work for second-half stoppage time, denying Mauro Manotas with a lunging effort before stoning Raul Rodriguez on the subsequent corner kick.
“Big-game Bill — he makes big saves when we need him,” captain Bobby Boswell said. “That could be a tough night for us to give up a late goal, and for him to pull some of those out, it’s world class.”
United may be coming off a two-week break from MLS play for the Copa America group stage, but Hamid is in no mood to rest after his long layoff. That has meant plenty of double sessions for Hamid, who has been working closely with assistant coach Zach Thornton to make up for lost time.
“I’m just trying to do my best and doing as many training sessions as possible, doing extra work with Zach as often as possible,” Hamid said. “I’m just trying to get back into form and trying to play catchup.”
Having Hamid back in the lineup is a boon to a United team sitting two points beyond the final Eastern Conference playoff slot — and just six points out of first place — as the season approaches its midpoint. The continued absence of defender Steve Birnbaum, who is representing the U.S. at the Copa America, heightens Hamid’s importance.
For all of the tangible benefits to having Hamid between the posts, United knows there also are psychological benefits to deploying the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014.
“It not only picks us up — it shuts [the opponent] down,” Boswell said. “It’s defeating when you know you don’t have a lot of good looks and you get one and he pushes it wide. It’s one of those where they start thinking, ‘We’re not going to score — not tonight.’”