Empire XI: Sean Johnson & Bill Hamid Must Assert Themselves to Enter USMNT Picture


Staff Writer

Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid have been the future of American soccer goalkeeping for the past four years. Both are seen as cornerstones to their respective clubs and prospects for the US Men’s National Team. They entered the league at the same time and have been equally touted during their careers.

The result? They have become equals.

As both goalkeepers find themselves on this week’s Save of the Week nominations, a small testament to their improved performances as of late, they are both going to deal with the burden of being the USA’s Goalie of the Future. At this point, neither goalkeeper has yet to establish themselves as a top tier goalkeeper in MLS. Hamid, 23, has a .701 save percentage throughout his career with DC United while Johnson, 25, has a .699 save percentage throughout his career with the Chicago Fire. Both goalkeepers’ career save percentage are modestly above the league average dating back to 2010 (.685) but neither are near the standard necessary to be included with the national team.

Nick Rimando, the USA number three and therefore the minimum standard bearer for all American goalkeepers, has .736 save percentage from 2010-present. It would obviously not be worthwhile to look at Tim Howard or Brad Guzan‘s stats since they currently play in the Premier League and were also outside of the national team picture when they played in MLS. It remains to be seen if Rimando, Howard and Guzan will be fixtures with the USA during the next World Cup cycle but with Rimando and Howard both 35, USA Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann would be remiss to not look at younger options at some point.

Klinsmann has given call-ups to both Johnson and Hamid, and the tandem was expected to lead the USA into the 2012 Olympics before Johnson’s infamous gaffe in Nashville. While that was the final nail in the coffin, Hamid also made costly mistakes against Canada and El Salvador in that tournament. They both rebounded strongly that season, posting career highs in save percentage, and guiding their teams to the playoffs.

They both regressed heavily in 2013 with Hamid’s save percentage dropping from .779 to .672 and Johnson’s dropping from .755 to .705.

Hamid’s drop from nearly World Class to below average can be attributed to DC United’s historically terrible season last year.  The Fire, meanwhile, regressed to their current, middling status. Like DC United, Hamid has rebounded this year to post a .735 save percentage, which would be his second-best. Johnson is having his worst season with a .620 percentage, which is 44 points below the MLS average. While the Fire have been mediocre this season, the fact they have allowed a not-too-terrible total of 27 goals  (seven teams have allowed as many goals or more) signifies that Johnson deserves some portion of the blame.

Johnson and Hamid’s up and down career is somewhat understandable given the fact that both are young goalkeepers playing for clubs that are both average and inconsistent. It makes both of them polar opposites to Rimando who has had consistent success with Real Salt Lake and has kept his save percentage above .700 for each of the past five seasons.

Since both goalkeepers can now be labeled veterans, it is fair to say that Johnson and Hamid have not fully lived up to the hype — especially since the two are now getting to the same age that both Howard and Guzan reached when they made their moves to England. In Howard’s last full season with the Metrostars before joining Manchester United, he posted a .718 save percentage. Guzan posted .731 save percentage in his final full season with Chivas USA. Both Hamid and Johnson have had percentages that were better, so the potential is there for the two goalkeepers who have become indistinguishable in their careers.

And if both goalkeepers continue to remain equally above average, they will be distinguished as something else: busts.

Empire XI

1. Seeing the backstory to Thierry Henry’s halftime tirade during the New York Red Bulls’ win against the Columbus Crew makes it even less surprising that it happened in the first place. Henry had been frustrated with the Red Bulls’ lapses for awhile, even commenting on it after their 4–0 win against the Houston Dynamo back in April and after their 5–4 loss to the Chicago Fire in May. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Henry scorning his teammates was that he actually did it in a, shall we say, more lowbrow way than how he usually comments on his team.

2. Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke is committed to going young, especially in defense where Matt Miazga has had his struggles. Petke, a former central defender, encouraged Miazga after his mistake led to the Crew’s lone goal.

“I pulled Matt out afterwards and said ‘How many games have you played in MLS,’ he said ‘Five.’ I said I played 300-something games and I had a hell of a lot of mistakes in this league,” Petke said. “By putting them in, as I have the last five-or-six games, I am showing that I know that I am going to stick with him. That’s not to say that he won’t come out once and awhile, come out here-and-there. But I believe in these young kids, I believe that this is the way for the future of this club.”

If Miazga can establish himself as a capable defender in the near-future, it will be pivotal for the Red Bulls’ playoff chances. More importantly, Miazga’s potential success would prove that the Red Bulls’ already superb academy will supplement the first team in such a cheap, reliable way that the club can afford to selectively spend big on Designated Players — which is a luxury that New York City FC will not have in its early years.

3. If the DP rule remains in place for the next collective bargaining agreement, it would not be a surprise to see teams be more selective with how they pursue DPs. The Portland Timbers are a good example of this after making Liam Ridgewell MLS’ most expensive defender. It was interesting to hear on the ESPN telecast of the Timbers-Seattle Sounders match about how the Timbers were not concerned with the attendance or merchandising impact Ridgewell has; just his competitive impact. With most MLS teams having stable and rising attendances, expect clubs to have a similar mindset.

4. The best sign that MLS attendance is stable can be seen with the fact that the average attendance during the knockout stage of the World Cup was 19,877, which is higher than the league’s average and median attendance for the season so far.

5. The New York Cosmos really need to scale down their stadium plans.The Cosmos are only filling Shuart Stadium to 40% capacity. Additionally, a new stadium would probably give the Cosmos at least a 50% boost in average attendance (as was the case with Red Bull Arena). Belmont’s proximity should up that figure, but nowhere near the 517% needed to fill the proposed stadium’s capacity. If the stadium were reduced to an initial capacity of 14,000, the Cosmos would be almost guaranteed to get a minimum of 6,000 spectators a game which is as solid as you can expect for a lower league team in the US.

6. Moving to Canada, the Ottawa Fury are confident they will get at least 10,000 spectators for their first game at TD Place Stadium. The Fury will probably have solid attendance for their first Fall Season in TD Place, but their long-term attendance figures are worth watching considering the NASL’s plans to expand to Canada.

7. TD Place will also host matches for next year’s Women’s World Cup and it fits the reported criteria for Canada’s World Cup bid for 2026. Duane Rollins is a reliable source for all things Canadian soccer and is operating under the notion that the NASL, Traffic Sports and the CSA are working towards getting the World Cup to Canada. It is an ambitious plan that has its flaws.

8. Seeing the success the 2014 World Cup had in attracting a sizable American audience, FIFA is aiming to get a World Cup back in the Americas as soon as possible. The intriguing aspect of this is that US Soccer President Sunil Gulati is a FIFA Executive Committee member — but has also vowed to not bid for the World Cup if the bidding process is not reformed.

The CSA has made no such statements and will have hosted a Women’s World Cup as well as a U20 Men’s World Cup. So the CSA has precedent and are not unwilling to play FIFA’s game when it comes to World Cup bidding. Surely the reputable people with the CSA and Traffic Sports would make a perfectly ethical, legal and legitimate bid for the World Cup, right?

9. It is a deserved World Cup title for Germany who needed a little bit of luck to finally find their best starting XI. It was once Head Coach Joachim Loew had no choice but to play Philipp Lahm at right back and start Miroslav Klose up front did Germany finally have the balance needed to win the tournament. However, credit to the Germans for being so superior in the talent department that they could afford to find their best lineup through trial and error at the World Cup.

10. Great moment of humility from Lionel Messi who acknowledged the hollowness of winning the Golden Ball for the tournament. Messi was not the World Cup’s Most Outstanding Player, but there is no need for others to get their potshots in.

11. World Cup Best XI: Manuel Neuer; Lahm, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Mats Hummels, Daley Blind; Sami Khedira, Javier Mascherano; Messi, James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben; Thomas Muller. Subs: Keylor Navas, Pablo Zabaleta, Ron Vlaar, Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez.