Youth versus experience
Just before the 2010 MLS Superdraft, D.C. United re-acquired goalkeeper Troy Perkins. Perkins had been playing in Europe, he was in the U.S. National Team mix, and he left MLS a few years earlier as one of the premier goalies in the League. There was no doubt that Perkins was United's #1 option in the goal, despite the #23 on his jersey. Then the season started and something wasn't right.
After starting 0-5, Head Coach Curt Onalfo decided to move Perkins to the bench in favor of the 19-year old D.C. United Youth Academy product, Bill Hamid. There were probably a number of reasons for Onalfo's decision, but no matter what they were, Hamid's debut was a success. D.C. United put forth an inspired performance and earned their first win of the season, thanks in large part to the performance of Hamid.
After the win, Hamid earned the start again in Dallas last weekend, but United lost 1-0. Now, D.C. United faces a goalie situation that was absolutely unthinkable two months ago.
Coach Onalfo graciously declined to announce who would be the starting goalie this Saturday at RFK Stadium against Colorado, but he did seem content with the recent development, saying, "Competition is the best motivator. Bill has done very well with the opportunity that's been presented to him."
Under most circumstances, it's easy to see how a competitive atmosphere in training makes everyone play at their best. However, Perkins was an expensive player to acquire, and the club gave up a great deal in order to sign him. Assistant Coach Mark Simpson acknowledged that Perkins was a high-price commodity, but he also noted that the business side of the deal does not impact the on the field decision making.
Simpson didn't mince words, "It really doesn't matter how much a guy makes, it's who really makes us successful in the net. I don't care who is in there, I want to start getting results for the team."
Perkins is rightly upset that he has become a back-up, but his frustration is not directed towards his former understudy, "Never!" Perkins said. "That's what he's here for, that's what I'm here for. We're not here individually, we're here to make this club better and to win things."
Perkins is a true competitor who takes his development as a ‘keeper very seriously. He admitted to not being at his best in recent weeks, and perhaps in some ways expected the change, "There's nothing like a good swift kick in the [place where nobody wants to get kicked]. I think we both needed that…he [Hamid] needed that to see what it takes to push someone, and I needed that to just have a chance to clear my mind and understand what got me here."
Perkins also sees the positive effect that a tough coaching decision can have, "It sent a message. Unfortunately, I had to be the one to take it, but it sent a message to everyone else - if you're not going to perform, you're going to be gone."
Perkins was very complimentary of Hamid's performances in the last two matches.
"Bill's done well. If I was 19 and put in that spot, I don't know if I'd do that well. He's certainly held his own, he's done what he needs to do and he's done an exceptional job."
Meanwhile, Hamid is embracing his new role. "At my age, to be in goal, you have to be confident," said Hamid. "If you think about it, there's not many players that are 19 in this world that are playing for their first team, so you have to come in every day with the mentality that ‘I am the #1' and fight for the job and be more mature than your age may say."
Perkins fully supports Hamid, but after losing the position he returned to MLS to have, Perkins seems to be regaining the mentality that earned him the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2006.
"Right now, I think I'm more focused than I've ever been, more committed than I've ever been. I've been soul searching and really weeding out distractions and making sure I'm ready when called upon again."
Hamid is trying to make sure he holds onto the job as long as possible. The win over Kansas City in his debut made Hamid the youngest goalie in MLS history to earn a victory. He broke Tim Howard's record by four days.
"When I was told, I was kind of happy, I was kind of more happy that it was Tim Howard. He was my idol, I'm a professional now and I'm pushing to get where he's at. That's something amazing to have and I'm just grateful. It's also something nice to have on your resume."
Curt Onalfo will have to make the final decision about who will start against Colorado, and even though it seems like a predicament, having to choose which talented goalie to start will be one of the most enjoyable problems Onalfo has faced this season. Both ‘keepers are focused, motivated, and working very hard, and the more players working hard every day, the more successful the team will become.
Mark Simpson is confident no matter who takes the field, "We have two competitive goalies that can play and that's only going to make both of them better. I would put both of them in a game at this point."