Hamid was the club’s first-choice goalkeeper with U.S. national team assignments, while Najar, a clever midfielder who represents Honduras on the international stage, was the 2010 rookie of the year.
For several restless weeks, however, the duo was stuck in reserve. While away at the Olympic qualifying tournament in March, their replacements, emerging keeper Joe Willis and industrious right wing Danny Cruz, performed well.
When Hamid and Najar returned, the coaching staff was averse to disrupting a harmonic ensemble.
Their re-entry came last weekend at Toronto FC. With Willis coming off a difficult stretch and injuries necessitating other changes, Hamid started for the first time since the March 10 opener and Najar made a second start in seven weeks.
Hamid, 21, had four saves and Najar, 19, patrolled the right side of the back line as United defeated winless Toronto, 2-0. D.C. (5-3-3) has lost just once since the second week of the season heading into Saturday’s visit to Houston (2-3-2) for the opening of the Dynamo’s new downtown stadium.
“It was a bit of a sense of relief because I haven’t been getting on the field as a starter,” said Najar, a second-half substitute in the previous two matches.
Najar’s instincts are to attack, so when Coach Ben Olsen inserted him at right back in the second half of a 5-3 loss at San Jose on May 2, he had to adjust his mind-set.
“I know defense is the priority right now, but if I see an opportunity to attack, I have to take it,” he said.
In preseason, Olsen experimented with Najar on the back line. The idea was to create another option when circumstances call for more speed and technical ability from a deep flank position.
The circumstance arose when United faced a two-goal deficit at San Jose and again last weekend, when injuries to Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White and Robbie Russell left Olsen with few defensive options.
“He still has a lot to learn at that position,” Olsen said. “You see some things out there [last weekend] that maybe against a better team could cost us, just as far as him not knowing the position. Saying that, he did a lot of great things, too,” with his quickness and overlapping runs.
Russell, the first-choice right back, is healthy but, with the other defenders still recovering, he’s likely to start in central defense against Houston. In which case, Najar would probably remain at right back.
For Hamid, the long stretch between assignments tested two weak spots: patience and maturity. He met with sports psychologist Tom Perrin, who has counseled several United and U.S. national team players, including Charlie Davies during a scoring slump last season.
“I learned a lot of lessons talking to Tom,” said Hamid, whose return was also stunted by a sprained ankle suffered at the Olympic event. “I am going to take that with me for the rest of my career — the maturing part and going through something negative and getting past it.”
Goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad noticed Hamid’s off-the-field growth.
“It’s difficult because he wanted to be the number one guy for the whole season,” Onstad said. “But being away, Joe did well. Sometimes it’s not fair. In the end, he finally realized all he can do is control what he does. That was a big step.”
Olsen and Onstad wouldn’t reveal this week’s starter, but Hamid seems to have the edge — for now.
“All goalkeepers go through it,” Onstad said. “They’re going to have their ups and downs and they’re going to have to fight for the position, so it’s a good situation for our team.”