Bill Hamid has started 176 league matches for D.C. United since the start of the 2011 season. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press/Associated Press)

D.C. United and Bill Hamid have been engaged in contract negotiations all year, but with the sides unable to finalize a deal and the star goalkeeper’s current pact due to expire in December, there is a growing possibility he won’t return next season.

This saga will end in one of three ways:

  • The sides will reach agreement, though not until the offseason.
  • Hamid will sign with a European club.
  • United will trade his MLS rights.

United has agreed to Hamid’s contract requests, people familiar with the talks said, but on two occasions he had second thoughts, perhaps holding out hope of going abroad. One person said United offered to double his base salary to about $700,000 per year guaranteed over three seasons, a package that would’ve put him behind only the U.S. national team‘s Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids) and Brad Guzan (Atlanta United) among best-paid MLS goalkeepers.

That offer might not be available anymore. While talks with Hamid have dragged on, United has begun earmarking funds for signing a third designated player, perhaps an international striker, during the winter transfer window. (Current midfielders Paul Arriola and Luciano Acosta are slated to fill two of the maximum three DP slots next season.)

United could still sign Hamid to a large contract using targeted allocation money (applicable for deals between $500,000 and $1 million), but the new numbers might not meet his expectations.

One person said “nothing will get settled in the short term.”

Club officials, Hamid and his representatives have declined to discuss the negotiations.

Hamid, a Northern Virginia native and graduate of Annandale High who will turn 27 in November, was United’s first homegrown signing from its youth academy in 2009. He has made 176 regular season starts since 2011 and is the club’s longest-serving player. In 2014, the league voted him goalkeeper of the year.

For years, his stellar work has bailed United out of many sticky situations. Aside from periodic lapses, Hamid has been among MLS’s best.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed in U.S. national team circles. After withdrawing from the past two winter camps because of knee injuries, Hamid was invited to Bruce Arena’s Gold Cup squad this summer and is in the mix for a 2018 World Cup roster slot, should the Americans qualify this fall.

While contract talks remain unresolved, Hamid’s playing status has grown complicated. With United long out of the playoff race, Coach Ben Olsen has pivoted, to some degree, to focusing on next season and using the remaining matches to evaluate positions. That includes goalkeeper.

In August, with backup Travis Worra falling short of expectations, United signed Steve Clark, who at 31 has seven years of pro experience, including 2014 through 2016 as the Columbus Crew’s starter. Before arriving in Washington, he played six months for Danish club Horsens.

With an option on Clark’s contract in 2018, United has been eager to see how he performs. Clark and Hamid were told of the decision weeks ago. Hamid, sources said, wasn’t thrilled but understood. He asked to remain in the lineup last weekend against San Jose because, according to Goal.com, a German scout would be in attendance. By then, however, United had already promised Clark the start. Besides, United wasn’t going to change its plans to satisfy a club seeking to lure its mainstay goalkeeper.

Clark faced light pressure in the 4-0 victory over the Earthquakes and seemed likely to start again Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls. That was assured when, in the buildup to the match, Hamid complained of back pain and didn’t travel. Rookie Eric Klenofsky backed up Clark, who conceded three goals (on a defensive error, a screened shot and a penalty kick) but made multiple quality saves, including a gem against Red Bulls scoring ace Bradley Wright-Phillips.

On Twitter, Hamid applauded his team’s late comeback in the 3-3 draw.

Hamid’s back continues to bother him, a United spokesman said Friday, and he did not join the team in Columbus for Saturday’s match.

From early indications, United would be comfortable with Clark as the starter next year if Hamid doesn’t return. Should Hamid stay, Clark would be a solid option when Hamid is unavailable because of injury or international duty.

Meantime, with no deal in place, other MLS teams have begun taking interest in Hamid, sources said. Although he is out of contract after this season, he is not eligible for free agency within the league this winter. A player must be 28 years old and have eight years of MLS service. (He does meet the second requirement.) He would be eligible for the reentry draft, though taking that route seems unlikely.

United also could trade Hamid’s rights. Presumably, the suitors would agree in advance to his contract needs. By trading him, United would collect players, draft picks or financial considerations, known as targeted allocation money and general allocation money.

From United’s standpoint, that’s preferable to him signing overseas, because it would get something in return. Out of contract, Hamid would not command a transfer fee for United. D.C. would, though, retain his MLS rights in case he returns stateside.

*****

D.C. United at Columbus Crew

Where: Mapfre Stadium.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Records: United 9-17-5, 32 points; Crew 14-12-5, 47.