Bill Hamid is still the long-term answer in the USMNT goal

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Discussion of the U.S. men's next-in-line should start and end with D.C.'s star, and his health.

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The search for the next in line in the U.S. goalkeeping pool should begin and end in Washington, D.C.

There is plenty of concern about what the U.S. men’s national team depth chart looks like beyond Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, both of whom are on the back end of their careers, though Guzan less so than Howard.

Names are bandied about every time the U.S. is set for a camp: Ethan Horvath, Stefan Frei, Cody Cropper, Zack Steffen and others. Really, it shouldn’t be that difficult of a decision.

Through eight games this season, Bill Hamid has proved he is more than capable of pushing the veteran goalkeepers for a chance to wear the U.S. jersey. Hamid should be considered the best option to be in net for the U.S. this summer at the 2017 Gold Cup if -- and this is what always comes with a conversation about Hamid -- he can stay healthy.

This season, Hamid has only hammered home why he’s the best of the rest in the U.S. pool and could maybe even force his way into the conversation for the 2018 World Cup, depending on Howard and Guzan’s form this season.

Hamid has faced more shots than any goalkeeper in MLS and leads the league in saves with 36, and while his 1.63 goals against average isn’t ideal, it comes with the territory when playing on a team that has struggled at times defensively. His save percentage (72%) is right there among the top goalkeepers in the league, many of whom have faced significantly fewer shots.

D.C. United coach Ben Olsen has acknowledged in the past that his team often relies on Hamid to keep them in games. Yet, Hamid often does the job. Just this past week, Hamid put in another fantastic shift to keep his team in the game in Atlanta. His work in net allowed D.C. to leave with three points in a 3-1 win despite holding less than 30 percent possession.

That game also left Hamid in some doubt with a groin injury, which has been too much of a recurring theme for the 26-year-old. Hamid has reached the 30-game plateau just once in his six full seasons in MLS. The groin problem, which is not expected to keep Hamid out of the lineup this weekend, is the latest warning sign about Hamid, who has never been left out of the U.S. national team mix for anything other than health issues.

The 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year has been sidelined by shoulder and knee problems during his career, injuries that seem to flare up right when he is set to rejoin the U.S. national team picture. This past January, after Bruce Arena was named head coach, Hamid had to withdraw from January camp due to a knee procedure.

Hamid said then that Arena provided him with some encouragement – the former LA Galaxy coach is quite familiar with Hamid and his ability – and every indication is that Hamid, if healthy, will be given a chance to win a job with the U.S.

While injuries have been the biggest issue for Hamid in his career, there have also been doubts about his maturity. Hamid was temperamental as a young goalkeeper, but he has clearly grown up in many ways. The best way to test that maturation is to give him a shot on a big stage.

That time may finally be arriving soon.

Arena will likely lean on Howard and Guzan to get him through the next round of qualifying, but Hamid should be in line to start the 2017 Gold Cup and be given every opportunity to prove he’s ready for the international level. If he is able to grasp that chance, it’s not out of the question for Hamid to be in the mix for a role in the 2018 World Cup – or, at the very least, the cycles beyond that, as he enters his prime.

Right now, there is no better candidate in the U.S. pool.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.