Bill Hamid's understudy role for the U.S.

Since Bill Hamid, right, has joined the national team, he and Tim Howard have embarked on the mentorship Jurgen Klinsmann hoped they would. Getty Images

To most everyone in the room at a recent U.S. national team meeting, it was an amusing revelation. To goalkeeper Tim Howard and his promising young understudy, Bill Hamid, however, it was a tad awkward. Hamid was confronted with a rumor about the email address he'd had since he was age 12 or so and made to confirm its veracity. It was true. It was indeed "YoungTimHoward@ …".

They all had a good laugh about it, and Hamid has since picked a new email address. But one thing hasn't changed: Howard remains a role model and goalkeeping paradigm to him.

In October, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced that his backup keeper would not be Brad Guzan or Nick Rimando -- veterans who had proved themselves and paid their dues -- but Hamid. The coach had been calling Hamid, 21, up for every game he'd been in charge, catching even the goalie himself by surprise at first. He screened Klinsmann's call, not recognizing the California number. "Four camps later I've learned to answer the phone," Hamid said in his slow baritone voice.

"It seems like behind Tim Howard there was not a lot happening the last couple of years," Klinsmann said in October. "We hope that with Bill coming in, the experience and environment of having Tim Howard next to him is almost like a mentor."

Hamid has enamored many with his outsized talent and stupefying reflexes. "Bill's got massive potential -- he's very quick, he's agile, his reflexes are good," said U.S. goalkeeper coach Chris Woods, who also coaches Howard at Everton and was himself between the sticks 42 times for England. "He's got everything that you need to be a top-class international goalkeeper."

There is much progress left to be made, though. "When you're young, it's easy to be a good goalkeeper with potential, but not many pan out," Howard said. "A lot of people have high hopes for him and it's important he keeps his head down and works hard. That's where great goalkeepers are made, on the training field, working every day."

Klinsmann, too, has raved about Hamid's talent, but quickly echoed that he would require time and polish, and should serve an apprenticeship.

Because time to develop isn't something Hamid has had much of in his goalkeeping career. From the age of 4, he played in the North Virginia soccer club run by his father -- an immigrant of Sierra Leone by way of London -- on account of his ability and a body that grew to be 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.

Also a good football and basketball player, Hamid was most serious about soccer, joining the D.C. United academy and becoming its first product to sign a professional contract in September 2009. At only 19, two months into his rookie season, he claimed the starting job from the faltering Troy Perkins for a spell during United's horrid 2010 MLS season. The next offseason, Perkins was dealt to the Portland Timbers, and after recovering from shoulder surgery, Hamid became the full-time starter. On Jan. 21, he made his U.S. debut with a straightforward 1-0 shutout of Venezuela. Throughout his meteoric ascent, Hamid hasn't had the chance to hone his skills in the peaceful shadow of a starting goalkeeper, to put in those crucial years of training repetitions in a professional environment that delay most goalkeepers' first starting jobs until their mid-20s.

Since Hamid has joined the national team, he and Howard, 32, have embarked upon the mentorship Klinsmann had hoped they would. "They're good friends and respect each other, and Bill takes it on board when he works with Tim and watches how he goes about his work as well," Woods said.

"I definitely lean on his advice and his words," Hamid said. "I look up to him as a mentor."

According to Hamid, Howard either tutors him or sets a clear example on anything from how to interact with coaches and where to move on the field to properly positioning his defenders and "going about life and being a good person."

Their connection comes naturally, for the similarities between them are numerous and obvious. They are both vocal goalies who are demanding of their line of defense. And aside from a propensity for bellowing at the backs, the two share a freakish athleticism. "Tim's got an unbelievable spring about him," Woods said. "Bill is obviously a bigger build than Tim but he's still very quick across the ground and gets off the ground as well."

And they both endured criticism of their fundamentals at the start of their careers, which have followed eerily similar paths: being drafted into first-team service on a struggling MLS team at a young age, becoming a national team backup soon thereafter and attracting interest from big-time European clubs just as quickly.

"Sometimes it's like looking in a mirror," Howard said. "I see him doing certain things I can vividly remember myself doing, good or bad."

Most of all, they share a devotion to their craft. Howard can talk about his position and its demands in remarkably thoughtful strands for hours on end. Hamid is of the same ilk. "When it comes to goalkeeping, I think about it all the time," Hamid said. "I take a lot of time out of my day just to continue watching stuff on goalkeeping, watching YouTube, documentaries. You can definitely say I'm obsessed with my craft. If it's something I could have studied in school, I definitely would have tried."

"For us, goalkeeping is an art," Hamid said. "It's something special -- goalkeeper -- and his mentality and the way he plays on the field, it gets me excited to see the attitude and the drive that he has. It is something I relate to."

That makes for an easy segue into a fraternity widely referred to as the Goalkeepers' Union, that bond spawned between those guardians of the nets, toiling in the back, solitary and burdened with hefty responsibility. "There's a natural hierarchy when it comes to goalkeepers," Howard said. "Any time you work alongside a goalkeeper for a long time you begin to pass off ideas and learn from the other -- very similar to what I had with [U.S. predecessor] Kasey [Keller]. I never had a sit-down with him, but the knowledge he gave to me through other communication was priceless. There has to be an open-mindedness from a young goalkeeper, and Billy does that very well. I look after him because there were people who held my hand and helped me along the way."

Observing his own mentors gave Howard the foundation to become one of the English Premier League's most consistent keepers. "Goalkeeping is a lonely place, and the one thing I took on from the big goalkeepers I played with was how they reacted to wins, to losses, how they reacted the next day in training after making a big mistake in a game," Howard said. "That is vital. Eventually you're going to be thrust into that role. You don't just make it up as you go along, but you use the lessons you've learned. You remember how your mentor acted, and they always acted exactly the same, and that takes a very good goalkeeper. To be a top goalkeeper you have to have a really strong mentality."

Howard hopes he can pass his even-keeled demeanor on to Hamid, who -- like Howard when he was younger -- can react to goals or mistakes emotionally. "I don't think we should write off [Hamid's] emotions as being good or bad yet," Howard said. "He's fiery and that's good; he can use it positively. It's not so much a detriment or curse. Every goalkeeper is different, and he needs to figure out when to control his emotions, when to let them loose, and that comes with time. His emotions are good so long as they continue to be kept in check."

In a healthy mentorship, the protege eventually outlines and colors in his own style and personality. "I don't do certain things just because he does them," Hamid said. "I want to be my own goalkeeper and I want to be myself, but learning from him and getting his advice is something I don't just put in one ear and let out the other -- it's something I learn from and put in my pocket."

And the protege should eventually match or surpass his mentor. Hamid broke Howard's record as the youngest MLS goalkeeper to win a game at 19 years and 161 days on his debut on May 5, 2010.

In another act of succession, Hamid could leave MLS for Europe in his early 20s, just like Howard did in 2003 when he left the New York/New Jersey MetroStars for Manchester United. "He's doing all the right things to eventually make a move to Europe," said Hamid's agent, Chris Megaloudis. "If all goes according to plan, it could be a year from now. We are getting a decent amount of phone calls. We're not actively shopping Bill, but there is interest for sure in Bill. People have taken notice of him."

That overseas move has already come close to happening several times. At 17, Hamid was on the verge of a move to Celtic but was denied a Scottish work permit. He went on subsequent trials to Stromsgodset in Norway, which was also interested, and FC Porto in Portugal before signing a homegrown contract with D.C. United. Last year, United got into advanced transfer talks with a Premier League team, says Megaloudis, before it was decided that Hamid was better off remaining in MLS for the time being to guarantee a starting job. This offseason, Hamid impressed on a 10-day training stint with EPL club West Bromwich Albion.

"A goal of mine is to one day play for a big London club, a big Premiership team like Tottenham, Arsenal or Chelsea," Hamid said. "Because that's the best of the best."

For now, Hamid will watch very closely and learn all he he can with the national team. He'll bide his time behind his hero, even if he no longer pays tribute to him through his online correspondence. Which is just as well, says Howard, who figures the notorious abandoned address "talks more to my age than anything else."

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderESPN.