By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 12:55 AM
On a Saturday morning this winter, Bill Hamid was home watching goalkeeping idol Tim Howard make a series of brilliant saves in a televised English Premier League match when it dawned on him.
It was time to grow up.
Hamid had made a rapid ascent since graduating from D.C. United's youth academy and signing a pro contract at age 18. He started eight regular season matches last year, showing glimpses of both brilliance and immaturity.
But to meet his goals of playing regularly in MLS and then someday fulfilling his dream of moving to the elite leagues of Europe, he would need to alter the arc of his career.
"When I saw that performance and then I went on Twitter and everyone was talking about him and the U.S. goalkeepers that will follow, I really wanted to follow in his footsteps and surpass him," said Hamid, who has admired Howard for so long, he incorporated the U.S. World Cup keeper's name into his personal e-mail address.
"To get there, I knew I had to buckle down. I decided in my mind I had to change my life around."
Physically, it would mean losing weight, building muscle mass and quickening reflexes. Mentally, it would require a more serious approach to soccer and life.
So during United's break, while rehabilitating a shoulder injury that had cut short his 2010 season, Hamid worked on becoming a better player and better man.
On the basement level of ratty RFK Stadium, while most of his teammates were enjoying a brief vacation, Hamid lifted weights and worked with athletic trainer Brian Goodstein and strength coach Pete Calabrese.
He became a regular at a Capitol Hill health club and changed his diet. He researched the weights and body fat percentages of the top keepers in Europe.
In the fall, he was packing 245 pounds into a 6-foot-3 frame. Now he is down to 220. By shedding excess bulk, his facial features are prominent and his shoulders and torso defined. At first glance, his physique rivals that of sculpted U.S. World Cup defender Oguchi Onyewu.
"I saw him from a distance and had to ask someone, 'Who is that guy?' " United President Kevin Payne said. "I honestly didn't recognize him."
Hamid's updated menu is heavy in fruits and lean protein. He wouldn't say what he was eating before the transformation but conceded: "It was terrible. I wasn't eating right, I wasn't eating at the right times of the day. I was eating like a college student."
And in many ways, he was like a college student - without the classes. Although his family and friends were nearby in his home town of Annandale, Hamid, who turned 20 in November, was on his own. Team officials would harp on him to improve personal and professional routines.
"He has had to change his habits, not just soccer habits, but life habits," assistant coach Chad Ashton said. "It's about eating right, being on time, really starting to look at your craft as a job and study the position, the game, people you look up to."
Hamid's renaissance comes at a crucial time. With United players reporting for physicals Thursday and training camp beginning in earnest next week, the goalkeeping job is up for grabs. Veteran Troy Perkins was traded to the Portland Timbers for another keeper, Steve Cronin, who has played primarily in the second division.
United's goalie situation has lacked stability since 2007.
The shoulder injury, which required surgery in September, will limit Hamid's participation in the early stage of camp. But with a strong showing in the build-up to the March 19 opener against the Columbus Crew, he hopes to secure the starting job.
"I don't want to sound like a [jerk], but I don't look at anybody like competition. I don't have competition," he said. "It comes down to me. I feel like I am the starter and my goal is to get this club back to where it needs to be.
"Last year, I proved - overweight and with a bad shoulder - I can do the job. This year, with a good shoulder, my weight where it needs to be and with me flying out there, I will be someone to be reckoned with."
It's not just about physical improvement; it's also about technique. And that's where Pat Onstad, the new goalkeeping coach, will come in. Onstad, 43, retired last month after a distinguished career, the last eight years in MLS, to accept the job.
"He did it for so long, I really admire him," Hamid said. "Whatever he has to say, I'm going to listen and learn."
The first steps in his growth were accomplished on his own.
"It's not just about showing up and stopping the ball," said his agent, Chris Megaloudis. "He was getting by on his physical attributes, but it takes a lot more to be a solid professional. He is committed for the first time."
Said Hamid, "I realized I had to grow up at some point."