Editorial: On Bill Hamid and weighing the risks/rewards of MLS and Europe

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Bill Hamid has left the building. After seven long seasons, countless MLS Saves of the Week, and a C/V that would make a 20-year veteran proud Hamid has finally left D.C. United for the pastures of Europe. Late last month Hamid signed with Danish SuperLiga side FC Midtjylland on a free transfer. 

Hamid is not the first player to have to make a decision like this, nor will he be the last. But he is the first player of some repute to be making such a decision after the United States Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. So the magnifying glass that is used by those who love the game to scrutinize every move has become much finer and every detail is scrutinized that much more for players, coaches, ownership, media, and even supporters themselves. While his move to Denmark has been seen by some as being a move in the right direction, others see it as a slap in the face.

To diagnose whether this move makes sense or doesn’t there are two questions that one has to answer. First, is there anything else that the player can achieve in Major League Soccer? Although he is just 26 years old Hamid has completed quite a bit in his time with D.C. United:

-2013 U.S. Open Cup Winner

-2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

-2014 MLS Regular Season Champion

-642 saves (13th all-time)

-184 goals allowed (second lowest all-time for goalkeepers with more than 180 appearances)

-1.27 Goals Against Average (Only Pat Onstad, Donovan Ricketts, Kevin Hartman, and Nick Rimando have a lower GAA with a similar level of appearances as Hamid).

– A 72.9 save percentage (Only Jon Busch has more appearances and a higher save percentage)

So at the tender of 26 Hamid has not only achieved personal success, but he has also helped United achieve some level of glory as well. He may not have one the purported biggest prize of them all, the MLS Cup, but his efforts with that 2013 U.S. Open Cup side more than make up for his club’s own personal shortcomings. Bill Hamid isn’t a goalscorer, nor is he a midfielder. His job was pretty simple with D.C.: stop shots and keep them in matches. No other in goalkeeper during the past ten years kept his side in more matches that they should have been out of than Hamid. 

Something that we must also bear in mind with Hamid is that goalkeepers are unique in that their careers are often much longer than that of a field position player. While 26 might be the prime of a field player’s career it is still very, very young for goalkeepers. Given that goalkeepers very frequently play into their middle to late 30s and sometimes 40s (see-Buffon, Gigi) it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Hamid may one day return to MLS to win the Cup. Marcus Hahnemann, Kasey Keller, Brad Guzan, and Tim Howard have all returned after spells abroad and were all more than serviceable in the twilight of their careers.

While the first question can be answered pretty easily, the second one is a little bit more difficult: will a move abroad lead to career advancement? In other words: will moving to FC Midtjylland give him a greater opportunity at featuring for the U.S. Men’s National Team and more opportunities in Europe?

(Editor’s Note: For those that want to discredit FC Midtjylland as just some random club that has no history in Europe you might want to check out their history. They have finished in the top five in each of their last five seasons, won the league title in 2014-2015, and have been a fixture in the Europa League playoffs dating back to 2011. Are they Manchester United? No, but it is a quality side.)

This is a little more tricky. What it really boils down to is perspective. Does Bill Hamid believe that this chance in Denmark will lead to more opportunities not just with the USMNT but also within Europe? Or does he believe that D.C. United’s fortunes are about to change and that the side will become a more consistent winner and be vying for top prizes in North America, which will in turn raise his profile and his chances with the USMNT?

Neither option comes without risk. The U.S. doesn’t exactly have the best history of sending players over to Europe and while goalkeepers have had more success that was about a generation ago. The physical attributes that made U.S. goalkeepers such prized possessions seem to have been adopted by countries across the world. Then again with regards to staying at MLS Hamid runs the risk of peaking at a young age. He has already done so much with United and in MLS that there really isn’t much else that he can show U.S. Soccer and top European clubs. If being one of the top two or three best goalkeepers in MLS only earns him a handful of appearances with the USMNT over the course of seven years then that is a sign that U.S. Soccer is looking for something different.

In the end getting the chance playing for FC Midtjylland and competing for titles abroad and in either the Europa League or the Champions League provides a new set of challenges for Hamid. That doesn’t mean that MLS is an inferior product to the Danish Super League nor is it a statement about U.S. Soccer other than clubs abroad have interest in MLS Homegrown Players. By the way, that is a good thing. Rather than continue with the hand-wringing over where the league sits in the world we should take solace in that other countries seem to want the players that we are developing. It is okay for a 21-year old league to be a feeder league. What is not okay is for the club to wait until he can leave on a free transfer and get nothing out of the deal other than a name to drop when pitching the benefits of your academy.

There is no question that Bill Hamid has all of the talent in the world to become a great goalkeeper in Europe. Throughout his career in D.C. he has time and time again shown that he is someone who can lead a club, can make the decisive play to turn a result, and to turn an average side into a quality side. Now the question is how will he handle a new league, a new environment, and the challenges that come with different circumstances. That he is willing to go outside of his comfort zone and take a risk is something that should be applauded for. Now the question is can he find the right set of circumstances and the right coaching to further hone his craft and build his international career. Whether he will succeed is up to him. But here’s hoping that he does and that more players follow suit.

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