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Bill Hamid’s return to D.C. United doesn’t guarantee success

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Sequels don’t always go the same way as the original.

About a year ago, when D.C. United was getting raked over the coals for perceived bad treatment towards homegrown player and goalkeeper Bill Hamid, I said D.C. wouldn’t begrudge Bill anything if he left, and given that he’s coming back to the 202 now on an 18-month loan from Danish Superliga champions FC Midtjylland, that’s presumably further proof that there were no bad feelings leftover.

I just got done seeing the latest Mission: Impossible film (it is fun, I had a free ticket, and Henry Cavill’s mustache is shaping up to be in the Sam Elliott pantheon) and I’m familiar with a bunch of sequels to established and popular stories. Generally with sequels the overall formula is the same, and there are some nuanced wrinkles which make a sequel its own, for better or worse. And while the overall formula of this latest version of Bill Hamid’s D.C.tenure remains the same, there are subtleties there which should be given some review:

This is a reboot for himself on and off the field.

Maybe there was an expectation that Hamid would get minutes sooner than later with a slip in form from Midtjylland’s incumbent goalkeeper Jesper Hansen, but the problem in that is that said dip...never really happened. In fact, Hansen’s record in League play was sterling: he won 18 of 23 league starts and racked up 9 of his league-leading 13 clean sheets once Hamid’s announcement was official. Putting a dent in Hansen’s minutes was an increasingly tall task to overcome, and when given minutes in the cup, Hamid didn’t impress enough to warrant more. In other words, the task of getting back into game form anywhere is going to be a long one.

But in the locker room, he’s coming to a team that he may not recognize. Yamil Asad, Junior Moreno, Ulises Segura and Darren Mattocks are all new faces, along with team captain Wayne Rooney. Were I Bill Hamid, I’d approach this as a new room with a chance to make a new impression, especially with the people he’ll be working closest with. If Kofi Opare returns to a bench role soon, the starting backline only has one familiar face from Hamid’s perspective (Steve Birnbaum), with Frederic Brillant, Oniel Fisher and one of Joseph Mora or Vytas comprising the other three spots. Speaking of the backline...

The backline isn’t complete, and doesn’t appear to have been seriously addressed when it could have been.

I’m sure Vytas is a nice guy, a fine player, and getting him from the Portland Timbers for a modicum of allocation money and only having to pay half of his salary (on what appears to be an expiring deal) appears to be decent business. That said, seeing the Timbers trade up and over D.C. to get the top allocation spot in order to bring back Jorge Villafana just 12 hours later doesn’t make for the best optics, which likely means confidence enough in Mora’s recent form to go for the duration at left back.

Let’s say left back is sorted. Right back is still comprised of Fisher, Chris Odoi-Atsem and Nick DeLeon. Of that trio, Odoi-Atsem is only just back after two months due to injury, while DeLeon is out for two months and counting after knee surgery. If there is any silver lining here, it’s that all three also appear to be on expiring contracts at the end of 2018.

However, if we’re using the thinking from last summer’s window to this one, why not get the guy you want now, and let him learn the league and his teammates? Instead, it appears we’re looking at a(nother) defense revamp which, given both starting center backs are already signed through 2019, is going to be a tough ask.

And in case you’re wondering, D.C. is in the bottom fifth of the league in shots allowed, and while outperforming their own expected goals (yay!) their defense is also outperforming their expected goals allowed (boo!). Current DC keeper (and another new face) David Ousted is facing shots at a closer distance than any of Bill’s ‘bad’ years while giving up more goals than his expected goals would indicate (oddly enough, second only to the guy who replaced him with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Stefan Marinovic).

It’s not 2014 anymore (or possibly why Bobby Boswell should have won Defender of the Year).

Let me borrow a little from an ancient post I did on Bill, the defense and the type of shots DCU goalies were seeing at the time. Back then, I (feebly) asserted that the 2014 defense was taking away a lot of good looks that shooters had at Bill that the 2013 one didn’t do. Or to put it in the way I think expected goals have it laid out, using the numbers in the American Soccer Analysis tables, D.C. United keepers faced about as many shots from 2014 (458) as 2013 (468), gave up fewer goals (37 in 2014, 55 in 2013) but the xGA was surprisingly similar (46.6 to 44.3).

Heck, Bill gave up fewer goals than his xG in 2013 (37 goals allowed to 39.34 xGA), but his 2014 job was nuts (34 GA to 44.13 xGA), even if the average distance of shots faced was a touch further out. While the 2014 defense was better, going from being outright bad to middle of the pack, Bill’s work was astronomical. Hamid has neither reached those levels of play, nor even the number of games played in a season (30) since.

Maybe Hamid comes in and sets the world on fire again, taking D.C. on a run to the postseason a la the 2007-08 Washington Capitals (which would make him Cristobal Huet I guess). Maybe, along with the ongoing boost from Rooney, the organization is lifted further in an off-the-field sense. After all, having a kid who sat with fans at RFK now playing at Audi Field is a marketing gem. And maybe as the MLS organization adds more meat to their bones, and expands their footprint with a USL club that’s being built out, the pace in which the team evolves and grows could be more than anyone could forecast. But that’s a lot of ‘maybe’ in one paragraph.

Whatever happens, two things appear to be certain for Bill Hamid and D.C. United: there’s at least one more movie to be made.