HARRISON, N.J. — D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid is no stranger to Red Bull Arena.
“I think I am starting to win some fans over in the crowd after 10 years of playing here,” Hamid said after the scoreless draw Sunday against the New York Red Bulls. “The fans make it tough for us, so we just do our best to deal with the crowd.”
Despite the hint of jest in his voice, Hamid was right. At least one fan in earshot of the open-air press box was in awe after Hamid’s second half heroics in net and audibly complemented his save in the the 61st minute.
During a Red Bulls set piece, midfielder Marc Rzatkowski hit a well placed corner kick in front of net. With tired legs, United left three Red Bulls attackers open in front of Hamid. In one swift motion, midfielder Cristian Casseres Jr. flicked the set piece up over defenders Frederic Brillant and midfielder Ulises Segura. The hit was sure to give the home side a lead and potentially three points is a crucial fight for fourth place.
“We got caught sleeping at the near post and I think we were a little bit tired,” Hamid said. “We have been a team that defends extremely well and this is probably one of the scrappiest games we have been a part of all year. It is usually like that with the Red Bulls.”
But the ball didn’t hit the back of the net. Instead, six-feet-three-inch Hamid launched himself across the face of goal from a crouched position to the opposite, upper corner. The tips of his fingers were enough to force the ball out of danger.
“We need moments like that,” D.C. captain Wayne Rooney said. “Fred’s clearance, Bill’s save, Steve’s clearance, they’ve all helped us get the result today.”
United’s strong defensive performance was awarded with a fourth consecutive clean sheet. It is the first time the club has accomplished that feat in 24 seasons in Major League Soccer.
“[We got] a shutout with a great effort from Bill — one or two big saves from him — and then another great performance from the back four,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “Overall, a good point.”
The last time United and Red Bulls met it was at Audi Field, where United was in the middle of a three-game losing streak. That streak lead the team to have a meeting of “truths” before making a 180-degree turn to the run they’re on now. Along with the camaraderie boost in the locker room, Olsen made a few crucial on-field changes prior to the game against Montreal that lead to the current defensive excellence.
Former Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins fit right into the defensive midfield role next to Junior Moreno following his move to D.C. in the Secondary Transfer Window. This allowed Olsen to move versatile midfielder Russell Canouse into the right back role. United hasn’t given up a goal since the switch. The refresh on the right flank has complemented the reliable center back pairing of Brillant and Steve Birnbaum, who have combined minutes of 5,633 played this season.
“Our togetherness, that is the biggest thing,” Hamid said. “We go into every game knowing we are going to be a tough team to break down.”
While United and its defensive prowess leave Red Bull Arena with a point and their playoff hosting destiny in hand, the attack lost a major player. In the 77th minute of Sunday’s game, referee Ramy Touchan showed Rooney his fifth yellow card of the season for unsporting behavior. He is not eligible for roster selection Sunday in the final game of the regular reason. Rooney received a red card last month against the Red Bulls as well.
“I am gutted I’m missing the game next week,” Rooney said.
Without Rooney, United will look to extend their shutout streak and capture a home playoff game with a win Sunday, Oct. 6 against worst-in-the-East FC Cincinnati at Audi Field.
“We are where we want to be. We are playing a dangerous team coming in that has nothing to lose and that is always a little scary,” Olsen said of Cincinnati. “We will have to take care of business at Audi Field to reward them to now have another chance at Audi Field.”