Bill Hamid crossed the white end line painted into the Audi Field pitch and spun around. In the Friday afternoon sun, he and D.C. United’s other new acquisition, Lithuanian left back Vytautas Andriuskevicius, known simply as Vytas, surveyed their club’s new home. For Hamid, the club’s first homegrown player, it was a reminder of what he had missed in his months away. As he and Vytas posed for pictures on the pitch, Hamid looked down at his jersey, No. 24.
“Should be 28,” he said to Vytas, referencing his old number, now worn by defender Joseph Mora.
The jersey, the stadium and much of the roster have changed since Hamid was last here, but the 2006 All-Met at DeMatha and Annandale native finds his club in a familiar predicament. United is stuck again at the bottom of the 11-team Eastern Conference with a 4-9-6 record.
The new players don’t expect to play Sunday night against Orlando City, the beginning of a three-game homestand, but they know why Coach Ben Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper brought them here: to fortify a thin defense that has allowed 36 goals, sixth-most in the conference. When asked whether Hamid and Vytas bring depth that allows him to exhale, Olsen didn’t blink.
“I haven’t exhaled in quite a while,” he said. “… These are the weeks when you need to make a change and get some energy out there. This week is a big week for us.”
United acquired both players just before the MLS trade and transfer window closed Wednesday. They snagged Vytas from Portland for $50,000 of targeted allocation money and, after unsuccessfully trying to buy Hamid with a transfer fee from Midtjylland, his Danish squad, ultimately took him on a 1 1/2-year loan. United can still sign free agents for several weeks, but Kasper said: “We’re happy where we’re at right now. We’re at least two deep in every position. Who knows [if we’ll sign someone], but we’re moving forward with this group.”
Friday felt like a homecoming for Hamid, who had his mother, brother, sister and cousins in attendance at his news conference. To hear him tell it, he left but never stopped thinking about D.C. In Denmark, where he struggled to gain consistent playing time, he consistently texted Kasper and set his alarm for 2 or 3 a.m. to watch United games. Six weeks ago, after Midtjylland told him there would be no increase in his role, Hamid’s agents explored options in the United States, elsewhere in Europe and Asia.
“I’m not going to say it didn’t work out,” Hamid said. “I proved I have a lot of talent, and [Midtjylland was] happy with the goalkeeper that I was, but I couldn’t get on the field in the time I was there.”
Hamid wants to solidify his place as a member of the U.S. national team, so he knew he had to start regularly and, after exploring “every option” for another club, he ultimately texted Kasper. The 2014 MLS goalkeeper of the year wanted to come back, even though he knows he wasn’t guaranteed to win back his starting position.
“I’m back home,” Hamid said. “It’s all about coming here, earning the spot back, showing what I can do and then hopefully making the [defense] better.”
Hamid started to get to know one member of the back line, all new to him, on Friday. Standing on the field waiting for pictures, Hamid dapped up Vytas, whom D.C. had wanted since playing against him last season.
After that game, Olsen approached Kasper about acquiring Vytas, and he became the team’s “top target,” Kasper said, because of his age, MLS experience and availability. United needed a left back because injuries “chopped” the team’s outside back depth, Olsen said, and Vytas was “very frustrated” by his lack of playing time in Portland, which was on a record tear. Vytas insisted his minimal role with the Timbers had nothing to do with his health.
“I’m very ready to show results,” Vytas said. “I’m single, I’m easy to travel around, so I’m here. … There’s no one holding me back. I came Tuesday, trained Wednesday. Today, ready.”
Olsen stressed this week’s importance for his club and that Vytas would get minutes “very soon.” When asked whether he expected Vytas to appear in United’s upcoming three-game stretch, he said, “You never know, but yes.”