INDIO, Calif. — For the better part of 12 years, D.C. United opened training camp with Bill Hamid atop the depth chart and the other goalkeepers angling for the backup job. Hamid would miss time because of injuries and international call-ups, but for the most part there was a clear pecking order.
This year’s camp commenced not only without Hamid but without any of the four keepers who saw action in 2022. The competition for the starting gig against Toronto FC in the MLS opener Feb. 25 features two free agent signings and a candidate promoted from United’s second-division affiliate.
“You’re not coming in trying to overthrow someone who’s had the job for years, who is a fan favorite, who’s really liked amongst the guys,” Alex Bono said. “All three of us are coming in with a clean slate.”
Hamid and United parted ways after his injury-shortened 2022 season, ending the second-longest tenure by a D.C. player (behind Jaime Moreno’s) and a 290-game, 80-shutout career, including the playoffs. The 32-year-old remains a free agent.
Bono, 28, arrived after eight seasons in Toronto, where he started 48 matches over the previous two years. Tyler Miller, 29, signed after starting 30 times for Minnesota in 2021 and losing the starting job last year. Luis Zamudio, 24, was Loudoun United’s primary keeper last year while training regularly with the D.C. squad.
When camp opened, Coach Wayne Rooney and goalkeepers coach Diego Restrepo made clear the No. 1 slot was there for the taking. Miller and Bono have started one preseason match apiece. Zamudio was a second-half sub in both, then started a 45-minute game.
“For them, it’s about minutes, and whether it’s the next game or the game after, they will know which one is going to be the starting goalkeeper,” Rooney said. “I have one in mind, but I’ll discuss it with the guys and with [Restrepo] and make a decision from there.”
Having started the preseason opener last week, Miller seems to have the edge. But Bono’s experience and Zamudio’s potential have left the race open.
“Wayne has told us anyone could play,” Zamudio said. “He doesn’t care how old we are. He is going to play whoever he thinks is the best.”
Miller’s signing brought him full circle. The summer after his freshman year at Northwestern, he was invited to practice informally with United at the RFK Stadium training grounds. His pro career took him from a reserve role in Seattle to, via the expansion draft, a starting job with Los Angeles FC in 2018 and 2019. He was traded to Minnesota in 2020 and started in 2021 before backing up Dwayne St. Clair last year.
With Miller not playing, United inquired about a trade last summer to provide depth as Hamid recovered from hand surgery and, in his place, neither Rafael Romo nor Jon Kempin stood out. Instead, D.C. struck a deal with Real Salt Lake for David Ochoa, a highly regarded prospect in the last year of his contract.
Offseason negotiations with Ochoa fizzled, and on the first day of free agency, Miller said he received calls from chief executive Jason Levien, Rooney and two other members of the technical staff encouraging him to join United.
“I’ve never received that kind of treatment,” said Miller, who signed a two-year deal. “It’s simple stuff, but it goes a long way.”
Bono’s time with Toronto — which included 135 appearances over the regular season and playoffs — wound down late last season in a backup role.
“The sense from both sides was it was time to move on,” said Bono, adding there was “no animosity.”
He said he received other nibbles in free agency but “I felt really fortunate D.C. wanted to take me on.”
Zamudio’s path began in the youth academy at Mexico’s Club América. In 2019, he made the first-team game-day roster for three Liga MX matches. His parents are from Mexico, but he was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Las Vegas.
He played for U.S. second- and third-division clubs before excelling with Loudoun last year. Thanks to regular training sessions with D.C., “I knew I was on their radar,” he said. “I knew if I performed well, I could potentially be considered for the first team.”
As soon as the season ended, he was offered an MLS contract.
The preseason competition has required the candidates not just to make saves and organize the defense but to proactively initiate the attack by playing higher up the field, taking chances and using their feet for quick distribution.
“I’m an aggressive goalkeeper,” Miller said. “I like to play high up, and for Wayne, it’s a step further. It’s taken some time, but I really feel like I’ve grasped it well. He’s great about it: If you make a mistake, that’s fine. It’s about reading the game and not playing scared.”
“He wants us to be very brave,” Zamudio added.
The aim for all three is to be in the lineup late this month at Audi Field. For Bono, that would mean facing his previous club.
“That’s a bit of added motivation,” he said, smiling. “It’s just a bit more urgency to chase that spot because I definitely feel there is unfinished business. You would love to play your old team and try to stick it to them.”
Notes: Polish attacker Mateusz Klich received his work visa and arrived at camp late Tuesday. He is slated to debut Monday against Los Angeles FC. …
Christian Benteke and Chris Durkin scored in a 3-2 loss to Charlotte FC on Wednesday. Then, in a 45-minute session using the first-game subs, United played to a 1-1 draw with Vancouver. Rookie Aidan Rocha (Georgetown) scored.