Bill Hamid is out of United States national team January camp again. And, just as was the case last year, it’s because of a knee injury. The MRI on the knee came back negative so there doesn’t appear to be reason to believe it’s as serious as his last injury, which required surgery and kept him out for months, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t damaging. Once again Hamid had the chance to make a big move on the USMNT depth chart, potentially his best chance yet, and it’s slipped away.
The United States have been looking for an heir apparent to Tim Howard and Brad Guzan more than two years now. Howard was magnificent at the 2014 World Cup, but his form has fallen off since and as he’s aged, there’s no reason to think he’ll ever provide the Americans with great goalkeeping again. Meanwhile, Guzan hasn’t been a top notch goalkeeper in a long time. The U.S. need someone else to step up.
Ethan Horvath is trying his best to be that next guy, but he’s still just 21 years old and needs more season. Zack Steffen is plenty talented, but has scant professional experience. William Yarbrough and David Bingham, among others, are perfectly capable, but neither looks like they are going to ever be good enough to start for the U.S. on the biggest stage.
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Hamid has been the one exception. He’s neither too young nor too flawed. For the better part of three years now, he’s been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. He’s an excellent shot stopper, capable with the ball at his feet and his decision making is miles better than it was when he entered MLS as an 18-year-old. There have been several stretches where he was the most in-form American goalkeeper in the world, league be damned. He out-played Howard, Guzan and everyone else. Not only that, he was younger than them all and a good bet to be the Americans’ best backstop by the 2018 World Cup.
To put it simply, Hamid should have been the United States’ starting goalkeeper for about two years now. But he wasn’t. At times, he wasn’t even on the roster.
Sep 24, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid (28) gestures against the Orlando City FC during the first half at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Why exactly Hamid couldn’t break through has never been exactly clear. Jurgen Klinsmann never favored him and seemed intent to take a look at as many other goalkeepers as possible, despite the fact that at the club level Hamid out-played them all. Maybe it was because Hamid stayed in MLS with D.C. United and wasn’t under the scrutiny that a starting goalkeeper gets abroad, or maybe it was some other reason. It never made much sense, but nobody ever really got a chance to challenge Howard and Guzan, but Nick Rimando, another older goalkeeper who also never really had a chance of unseating the top two.
At times, it felt like it didn’t matter what any goalkeeper did or how he played. Howard and Guzan were the top two and that was that. But that Hamid stood out from the rest and couldn’t make a move was all the more perplexing.
Some thought Hamid might get an opportunity last January, but then he hurt his knee. It was a chance missed, essentially giving him no chance of being able to make the Copa America Centenario roster and giving him an uphill battle, in the best of circumstances, to make a challenge for the starting spot in the final round of World Cup qualifying.
This January was supposed to be his biggest chance yet. Klinsmann was gone and new manager Bruce Arena certainly wouldn’t care that he was in MLS. Meanwhile, Howard is hurt and Guzan isn’t first choice at Middlesbrough. Hamid had a clear path to challenge for the starting job, and then his knee acted up again.
As tough as that must be for Hamid, it’s just as tough for the United States. Howard is still hurt, Guzan is still second choice and there’s no obvious choice to start for the U.S. when they resume World Cup qualifying in March.
Where Arena and the U.S. go from here is anyone’s guess. But we know where Hamid is going — back to D.C. with another knee injury, and another missed chance.