Europe-bound Hamid bids quiet farewell to D.C. United as RFK Stadium takes center stage

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Geoff Burke
With a move to Denmark on the way, the U.S. international watched from afar as his time with the only club he's ever known came to an end Sunday

WASHINGTON — Many a D.C. United icon got a moment in the sun as the club bid farewell to RFK Stadium on Sunday.

The pregame "Legends" match featured a host of alumni who played their part in building the franchise's trophy-laden reputation. There were plenty of United heroes, from Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno to Ryan Nelsen and Dwayne De Rosario. The likes of Hristo Stoichkov and Freddy Adu added star power, as well.

Then Ben Olsen's current crop of players took center stage, as 41,418 filled RFK Stadium for the final MLS match at the 56-year-old venue. Paul Arriola's 44th-minute opener gave the fans a moment to remember, their cheers building from a ripple to rapture as the sequence played out. While the New York Red Bulls earned a 2-1 win, it remained a vintage showcase for the weathered cathedral of American soccer.

All the while, Bill Hamid watched from the mezzanine.

If any player were to relish such an occasion, it would be Hamid — a Northern Virginia native and academy product who has spent his entire eight-year career with United. But after the 26-year-old sat out most of training this week while orchestrating an expected move to Danish side Midtjylland, Olsen went with backup Steve Clark in goal. Amid a celebration of United's history, the club's longest-tenured player became a spectator.

"To walk out, to see the crowd, to see the upper bowl have a few butts in the seats, it was kind of cool," Hamid said. "Unfortunately they didn't get the win, but you can see that people bought into it and they have the passion for the sport here and it's going to be interesting moving into a new stadium. I think it's going to be a sweet transition."

Sean Franklin Bill Hamid Kofi Opare D.C. United

D.C. United RFK Stadium

Yet it's one he won't be a part of. Out of contract at season's end, Hamid weighed signing a new deal with United so he could play at Audi Field, a stadium that's been a decade in the making. The 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year also mulled joining Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, which showed interest in signing him as a backup.

But the opportunity to explore life abroad and start in the Danish Superliga — potentially as a showcase for a bigger move down the line — proved to be the right combination.

"Part of it is the fact that I've never lived anywhere else in my life," Hamid said. "Am I choosing the right [club]? I had options where I'd be a No. 2. I didn't like that. I was going to be a No. 2 at Frankfurt. I don't know if I would have preferred that. But this is an opportunity for me to walk in and be a starter and continue playing, which is important."

United general manager Dave Kasper added: "To watch a kid grow from our academy to becoming one of the top goalkeepers in our league and in our country is very special. We love the kid. He's really wanted this — every offseason, for as far as I can remember, he was in my office, he was in Ben's office talking about, 'Where can I go train? I want to get seen, I want some exposure, I want to feel this and I want to talk about a potential move.' That day is finally here for him, and we want to wish him all the best."

Bill Hamid quote GFX

Hamid also considered the effect a move to Europe could have on his U.S. national team prospects. The shot-stopper earned his first call-up in 2011 and has found himself summoned for camps on a semi-regular basis, taking part in the 2013 and 2017 Gold Cup triumphs. But he has just three caps to his name.

As the U.S. builds toward the future in the wake of missing the 2018 World Cup, with 38-year-old incumbent Tim Howard wrapping up his international career, the goalkeeping competition appears wide open.

"I did find it a little difficult to solidify a national team spot playing here," Hamid said. "I think it is the right thing to move away and try to take the next jump. And hopefully, if I can take another jump from there within the next year or two, then I can solidify that spot and be a part of that three [U.S. goalkeepers]. I was always in and out, got some caps here and there, but I want more. I want to push myself for more."

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As a blend of United alumni and players mingled on the field postgame, applauding the supporters and reflecting on 22 years of RFK Stadium memories, Hamid was all smiles. He continued to take pictures with fans long after the final whistle. Later, while Hamid spoke to media outside the home locker room, Etcheverry took a moment to wish him luck — one all-time United great to another.

After 193 MLS appearances, 652 saves and 49 shutouts, there's little doubt that the first homegrown player in club history leaves having secured his place in United lore.

"I think the strongest imprint that I want to have is that I was a young man from this neighborhood that had the dream, because he came to this team and he was accepted into this D.C. United family," Hamid said. "And he made the most of that opportunity."

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