By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)
Bill Hamid is returning to MLS and the reception has been largely positive, which is… odd. Sure, it’s nice that he’ll be getting consistent field time again, but there are some hard truths that are being glossed over in favor of a positive story. While the level of zeal towards an American’s return to MLS is nice (“Well maybe he learned a lot while sitting on the bench for a year and is now actually better!”) we would do well to admit the negatives that have come along with the situation. Grab a comforting hand because we’re going to take off those rose colored glasses and see what lessons there are to learn from all of this.
1. Hamid’s time in Europe has been an unmitigated failure - There’s this perception that a player going to Europe will automatically be handed a bottle of Michael Jordan’s Secret Stuff. Unfortunately Hamid’s experience was far from what people hoped and the last year was anything but a positive step in his career. In the last twelve months, Hamid played as many times for the United States as he did for FC Midtjylland. (FC Midtjylland is typically known for playing many more games than the United States in a calendar year.) In his time with Midtjylland, he played three times with the first team, conceding seven goals in the games. The whole point of going to Europe was to elevate his game and yet he’s sat the bench time-and-time again. Hamid even struggled to get games with the reserve team, where nineteen year old Oliver Ottesen received twice as many games as him.
To some extent, you have to applaud Hamid for his desire to play in a higher league but whoever convinced Hamid that FC Midtjylland was a good idea needs to lose their job. For a player of his stature to be treated so poorly, it’s a lose-lose for everyone involved. Typically when a club brings in a new player, they make sure they get a return on their investment. The problem here is that FC Midtjylland brought in a goalkeeper during the previous summer transfer window prior to Hamid's arrival.. One they paid a whopping transfer fee of zero dollars and the other the paid somewhere over half a million pounds. (Transfermarkt says €650,000 or $800,000.) Guess which goalkeeper they had a greater interest in getting a return in. Hamid’s benching had nothing to do with Jesper Hansen getting hot, it had everything to do with FC Midtjylland not caring about a player they spent no money on. So Hamid wasting away on the sideline for a year was a fairly reasonable outcome, given the situation.
2. The USMNT’s goalkeeper situation is worse than what we had originally feared - Chelsea just paid £71 million for 22 year old goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, surpassing Liverpool’s record spending of £66.8 million for Alisson earlier this summer. To put that a little more in perspective, Chelsea spent $90 million dollars for a goalkeeper a year out of college. And FC Midtjylland just told MLS, “Hey we have this extra goalkeeper, do you guys want him for a bit?” Heading into the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT was trying to decide which Premier League standout to start. (Friedel would not only start the World Cup, but end up being named the best goalkeeper in all of England after the 2002-03 season.) As fans across the world are foaming at the mouth from the ridiculous transfer sums their goalkeepers are tied to, Americans are breathing sigh of reliefs when their goalkeepers return to their domestic league just so they’ll get back on the field. Even though people may talk about Jonathan Klinsmann-this or David Ochoa-that, the matter of fact is America is currently irrelevant when it comes to goalkeepers on the international stage.
3. DC United’s handling of Hamid’s exit was not only detrimental to Hamid, but also to the club as well - Let’s start with how DC United has botched this for themselves because that’ll be easier to show. Back in April of 2017, DC United reportedly started negotiations with Hamid on replacing his expiring contract. (His contract would run out in December, but the transfer window closes at the end of August for most countries.) Over the next four months, DC’s struggled to find a better option than to let the arguably most valuable goalkeeper in the entire USMNT pool walk for zero dollars to a club who did not have use for him. It would be tough to find a worse situation than this one. Defenders of DC United will say “But they offered him twice his salary!” which is entirely misleading. If a player wants to leave, offer him more money, sure, but also prop yourselves up as a competent club by having a backup plan. Players look at the bottom dwelling team with disdain already, a good idea might be to not show the league that you’re willing to lead one of your team’s most prolific players of all-time into debilitating career move. It’s bad business. If you want to move a player, move them at 23 so you can receive a return on them. Don’t wait until they’re 27, where it looks like you don’t know how to take care of your talent and end up getting the same player to return at a worse state than when they left.
As for Hamid’s development, there’s a reason DC United won’t re-offer the doubled salary now. Unless you’re one to buck the conventional wisdom that players should be playing games to keep up their level of play, Hamid’s yearlong lack of playing time was detrimental for his career. In the few games he’s received, he’s looked more than a step behind. Looking back to his last start for FC Midtjylland, he looks fine on the first two goals, showcasing some good reactions on the shots, but makes a meal out of a casual shot to his left for the third goal of the game. It’s a routine save for any goalkeeper who’s been getting consistent minutes but instead it’s a product of Hamid decaying on the bench.
4. FC Midtjylland hasn’t given up on Hamid, but they’re also not holding their breath - If there’s a silver lining - and that’s a big “if” - it’s that FC Midtjylland hasn’t completely given up on Hamid. For what it’s worth, Hamid signed a contract that extends to July 2022, implying FC Midtjylland want to put him in his plans down the line, which is encouraging. Sending him back to a familiar, positive environment with DC United should rejuvenate the goalkeeper and get him some playing time, which they’re clearly uninterested in doing themselves. It’s a little shrewd on Midtjylland’s behalf, tossing a player back to his previous club saying “Well we couldn’t make it work, you try.” But unlike MLS, Europe is a cutthroat environment that doesn’t have time for second chances because there’s always another player somewhere. Hamid’s chapter in Denmark isn’t over, but Hamid also hasn’t returned from Mordor yet.
5. No one knows how good Hamid currently is - Except perhaps Bill Hamid himself, but even that comes into question for any professional who has sat the bench for so long. Is he still in contention for the USMNT starting spot? Out of principle we should say no but if there’s one goalkeeper who is ready to upend an expectation it’s Bill Hamid. We’ve all seen that shot on goal where we think, “Oh that’s definitely going in” and then Hamid saves it. And the funny thing is we’ve seen it countless times over the years. Olivier Giroud was once described as having a highlight compilation so good his own grandkids would think he was better than Pele. Hamid is goalkeeper-equivalent here. We’ve all seen what he can do, and while there is certainly some romanticism about his abilities due to his best saves, no one is really sure what Hamid will pull off next.