This year’s camp began not only without Hamid, but without any of the four goalkeepers who were in action in 2022. The competition for a starting berth against Toronto FC in the MLS opener on Feb. 25 includes two free agent signings and a contender who promoted from United’s second branch division.
“You don’t come in trying to unseat someone who’s had a job for years, who’s a fan favorite, who’s well-liked among the guys,” Alex Bono said. “All three of us are going in with a clean slate.”
Hamid and United parted ways after his injury-shortened 2022 season, ending a DC player’s second-longest tenure (behind Jaime Moreno) and a career of 290 games and 80 shutouts, including playoffs. The 32-year-old is still a free agent.
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Bono (28) arrived after eight seasons in Toronto, where he started 48 matches in the previous two years. Tyler Miller, 29, signed after making 30 starts for Minnesota in 2021 and losing his starting job last year. Luis Zamudio, 24, was Loudoun United’s main goalie last year while training regularly with the D.C. team.
When camp opened, manager Wayne Rooney and goalkeeping coach Diego Restrepo made it clear that the No. 1 spot was there for the taking. Miller and Bono each started one preseason game. Zamudio was a second-half substitute in both and then started the game for 45 minutes.
“It’s about minutes for them, and whether it’s the next game or the game after that, they’ll know who’s going to be the starting keeper,” Rooney said. “I have one thing in mind, but I will talk about it with the boys and with them [Restrepo] and make a decision from there.”
After starting the preseason opener last week, Miller appears to have the upper hand. But Bono’s experience and Zamudi’s potential left the race wide open.
“Wayne told us that anyone can play,” Zamudio said. “He doesn’t care how old we are. He will play against whoever he thinks is the best.”
Miller signed full circle. The summer after his freshman year at Northwestern, he was invited to work out informally with United on the RFK Stadium practice fields. His pro career took him from a backup role in Seattle to, via the expansion draft, a starting job with Los Angeles FC in 2018 and 2019. He was traded to Minnesota in 2020 and started 2021 before becoming a backup to Dwayne St. Louis last year. Clair.
With Miller out, United inquired about a trade last summer to provide depth while Hamid recovered from hand surgery, and in his place, neither Rafael Romo nor Jon Kempin stood out. Instead, DC made a deal with Real Salt Lake for David Ochoa, a highly regarded prospect in the final year of his contract.
Negotiations with Ochoa broke down in the offseason, and on the first day of free agency, Miller said he received calls from CEO Jason Levien, Rooney and two other members of the technical staff encouraging him to join United.
“I’ve never been treated like that,” said Miller, who signed a two-year deal. “These are simple things, but they go a long way.”
Bono’s time in Toronto – which included 135 appearances during the regular season and playoffs – ended late last season in a reserve role.
“The feeling on both sides was that it was time to move on,” Bono said, adding that “there was no hostility.”
He said he got other nibbles in free agency, but “I was really happy that DC wanted to take me.”
Zamudio’s journey began in the youth academy of the Mexican club América. In 2019, he made the first team roster for three Liga MX games. His parents are from Mexico, but he was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Las Vegas.
He played for American second division and third division clubs before excelling with Loudoun last year. Thanks to regular training sessions with DC, “I knew I was on their radar,” he said. “I knew that if I played well, I could be considered for the first team.”
As soon as the season ended, he was offered an MLS contract.
The pre-season competition required candidates not only to defend and organize the defence, but also to proactively initiate attacks by playing higher ground, taking risks and using their feet to distribute quickly.
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“I’m an aggressive goaltender,” Miller said. “I like to play high, and for Wayne it’s a step up. It took a while, but I really feel like I got it right. He’s great at it: if you make a mistake, that’s okay. It’s about reading the game and not playing scared.”
“He wants us to be very brave,” Zamudio added.
The goal for all three is to be in the lineup at the end of this month at Audi Field. For Bono, it would mean facing his previous club.
“It’s a little extra motivation,” he said, smiling. “It’s just a little more urgent to hunt that spot because I definitely feel like there’s unfinished business. You would love to play against your old team and try to keep it with them.”
Notes: Polish striker Mateusz Klich was granted a work visa and arrived in camp late on Tuesday. He is scheduled to make his debut on Monday against Los Angeles FC. …
Christian Benteke and Chris Durkin scored in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Charlotte FC. Then, in a 45-minute session using first-leg substitutes, United played to a 1-1 draw against Vancouver. Rookie Aidan Rocha (Georgetown) scored.