D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid recorded a career-high eight saves on Saturday to help United secure a tie at Chicago's Toyota Park and second place in the final Eastern Conference standings.
This was one for the books. Combined with a couple strong diving stops by Chicago's Sean Johnson, this game was an absolute jewel for advocates of those who provide soccer's last line of defense.
Hamid and Johnson are two young and promising keepers in Major League Soccer. Both are incredibly athletic, and this season both added significant degrees of poise and presence for their respective clubs.
But on this day, Hamid's star shone brighter, out of necessity. Chicago thoroughly outplayed D.C. on the rest of the pitch in a game that had playoff significance for both.
United needed a tie to hold second place. Chicago was looking for a win to avoid dropping to fourth and having to host a play-in game.
Chicago struck first. The Fire's Patrick Nyarko fired a blast that beat a diving Hamid and struck net just inside the right post.
Hamid quickly regained his feet, batted an arm at the invisible gods of soccer misfortune and then took on an expression of stony resilience. It was an expression that seemed to communicate a simple message to teammates: "Do your part and level this score, and they won't beat me again."
Then the show began.
Hamid's primary victim was Chicago's Sherjill MacDonald. The 21-year-old product of D.C. United's Academy twice denied MacDonald from point-blank ranges.
The first time occurred near the end of the half, with United desperately hoping to avoid carrying a two-goal deficit into the break. On a Chicago counter, Chris Rolfe played a beautiful feed to MacDonald, catching him in stride and space. Hamid shuffled with the pass, chose his position and, when the shot came, made a cat-like swipe at the ball with a strong left arm.
This was a weighted shot from a full-paced attacker. Hamid was only seven or eight yards away. Just making contact with the ball and hopefully deflecting it off target would have been impressive. The young keeper stopped the shot's momentum cold and sent it deflecting 15 yards back over MacDonald, where it was picked up by a trailing D.C. defender.
United did equalize early in the second half, and Hamid's second "grand theft goal" against MacDonald occurred in the In the 62nd minute. After a Chicago corner failed to produce, United also failed to regain possession or at least clear the ball. A shot came in through the box but was blocked up and toward Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares.
Segares lifted a nifty outside-foot flick toward MacDonald in front of the left post. The attacker made solid contact with his right foot. Hamid made solid contact as well, this time with both hands.
In real time, it looked like an act of self defense on Hamid's part. In video replay, the shot could be seen headed to the high corner inside the far post. Hamid proactively moved his hands up and to his left for a beauty of a reaction save.
Ten minutes later, Hamid faced a deceptive right-footed shot from Dominic Oduro.
The Ghana native pushed into space to the left of the goalmouth, with a D.C. defender just trailing him to the inside. Oduro appeared to be setting himself up for a strike or more likely a cross in front of Hamid with his left foot.
A step earlier, Oduro caught the ball with a right-footed poke. Despite the awkward physics involved, the shot had some juice. With a save reminiscent of his second on MacDonald, Hamid was able to get both hands behind the ball and deflect it away.
Hamid, only 21 years old, already is on the radar for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men's national team. The United keeper from the nearby Virginia suburb of Annandale has trained with both national youth and senior teams. Hamid got his first senior team cap earlier this year.
If Klinsmann was tuned in for this particular United game, Hamid’s radar blip may just have brightened substantially.