By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
On a Sunday afternoon in April at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Abdul "Bill" Hamid stood menacingly in the goalkeeper's area as the D.C. United under-18 development academy team played, shouting direction at his defenders: where to move, where opposing players were making runs from, when to push forward.
At 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, Hamid mans his position with a presence that demands attention from anyone near the field -- his teammates, the opposition and spectators. On the sideline a few feet away, fellow goalkeeper Samir Badr watched his teammate. A day earlier, it was Badr barking orders to defenders, going airborne to snatch crosses before the balls found rushing attackers.
While Badr plays with flash, Hamid's style is blue-collar. Both are among the top goalkeeping prospects in the United States, which has produced some of the world's top netminders. Badr is an under-17 national pool player who also plays for Robinson High School. Hamid is an under-20 national pool talent. Just teenagers, both have set their sights on European professional contracts. And both may find themselves playing overseas by the end of the summer.
Badr recently returned from a training stint with two Portugese clubs, FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon, and said he is set to sign a reserve contract with Porto this week.
Hamid nearly inked a reserve deal with Scottish club Celtic a year ago before issues with a work visa got in the way. Now, with less than a month remaining before he graduates, Hamid has drawn strong interest from two European clubs.
"They're both a little different in the kind of goalkeepers they are, in their style," D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper said. "They're both very good athletes, they both read the game very well. Technically, there are things they need to work on, but they both have the ingredients that it takes to be a successful [professional] goalkeeper."
Hamid's size -- and talent -- have had him on the national radar for nearly five years. His father, Sully Hamid, a Sierra Leone native, is president of Premier Athletics Club, a youth soccer organization in the area that had Bill playing with kids older than him since he was 4.
"Bill is a little bit of a special case," said Judah Cooks, who coaches D.C United's under-18 academy. "He's always been larger than most kids his age, he's pretty much been in the top in the country since he was 13. When he was 16 . . . I think he started to truly see he could possibly make it."
In November 2007, Hamid went on his first trial with a European team, flying to Scotland for an audition with Celtic, the country's premier club. After a strong trial, Hamid returned to Glasgow last spring.
"Stepping on [the field] with players like [Shunsuke] Nakamura, one of the best free-kick takers in the world, it was an amazing experience," Hamid said. "I actually vomited on the very first day I walked onto the field. Not even probably 10 minutes after I walked on. I was young, I was kind of scared."
Hamid's nerves eventually settled, and he impressed the staff of the prestigious European side. The work visa issues prevented him from signing then, but recently he traveled to Europe for trials with three European clubs he declined to name, although he acknowledged two teams were eager to move forward. Hamid could sign a reserve contract as early as July.
"I feel amazing but it's more grateful," Hamid said. "There's so many 18-year-olds in this country that are pushing, I know so many pushing to go to Europe. So knowing I have the opportunity, I feel grateful."
Badr, a Fairfax native, played with the under-14 and under-15 national teams and briefly played with the D.C. United Youth Academy before being invited in 2006 to Bradenton Academy in Florida -- where the country's youth national team players live, attend school and train.
His play last summer during an exhibition tour in Central America impressed international scouts, and his desire to pursue a professional deal ultimately led to his departure from Bradenton. By February, he was back in Virginia.
Three weeks later, he was bound for Portugal. After successful trials with Sporting Lisbon and Porto, he returned home, where for the first time in his life he attended a regular high school, playing for No. 4 Robinson, which faces Jefferson in a Virginia AAA Northern Region semifinal tomorrow.
"It was tough, a different setting, trying to meet new people," said Badr, who has turned in eight consecutive shutouts for Robinson. "And then after I was there for three weeks, I left again for months. Then people you said 'hi' to a little, started to get to know, you were gone again for a month. The transition period from Bradenton, back home, to Portugal [and back] was a little tough for me to adjust."
What helped ease the transition, however, was his return to the D.C. United Youth Academy; with Hamid on the roster, Badr found competition just as stiff as it had been in Bradenton or even in Europe.
Badr is a more slender, quick goalkeeper whose flashy style and fashion mimic the flair of his idol, Portugese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
"I think his technical ability is what makes him stand out," said U.S. under-20 goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen, who tutored U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard and has coached both Badr and Hamid. " . . . The areas that him and every other young goalkeeper need to get better at is organization."
With Hamid, there is no flash.
The hulking 18-year-old projects the maturity of a veteran goalkeeper, though coaches say he must develop the consistency necessary to be an everyday starter at the senior level. And Hamid is all business when he plays, often taking a vocal leadership role from his position.
"On the field I'm crazy," Hamid said. "I don't get it. I'm different on the field."
The possibility remains that one or both could play professionally in Major League Soccer, which has established rules so clubs can sign players from within their own youth system without going through the normal free agent or draft channels. And there is precedent in the league for that type of signing to take place.
But with both young prospects opting to bypass college to go straight to the pro ranks, D.C. United could lose both to the open market.
Kasper said D.C. United felt it was important that both finish their high school education. Following Hamid's graduation this month, Kasper said, the club expects to "bring him in for an extended look."
If either Hamid or Badr stays in the United States, he will be eligible for a Generation Adidas contract, which provides an educational grant to the player and does not count toward a team's salary cap. There are also developmental spots on MLS rosters. Such a deal would be comparable to a European reserve contract.
Both Badr and Hamid said an opportunity to play in MLS would interest them, emphasizing that the contracts with the European teams are not a done deal. They're both likely to be playing professionally soon, but the question remains how high their ceilings go.
"They still need to grow their talent. They're not finished products," Mulqueen said. "Both need to get better physically, both need to get better technically. . . . [But] right now, yeah, they're very good. They're in the mix and they're on the radar for people. Now will they be able to meet those levels?"