It was a bit of an odd homecoming Saturday for former Einstein High School soccer star Denis Hamlett.
He said it felt great to be in the Washington area, where most of his family and friends still live, for the first time in three years. But on this trip, he was here as an adversary rather than a hometown favorite.
On Saturday, Hamlett walked onto the field at RFK Stadium as D.C. United’s opponent, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s first-year assistant coach.
“The United game is always one you check on the calendar,” Hamlett said. “It’s always exciting to come home. D.C. has one of the best fan bases. I always get pumped up for this one; you want to have the last laugh.”
United won Saturday’s game, 4-0, over the first-year club from Canada.
A lot has happened to Hamlett since his early soccer days, kicking the ball around with friends at Sligo Middle School.
A stroke caused by a blood protein deficiency forced him to cut his promising professional career short in 1997 at age 27. That’s when he turned to pacing the sidelines as a coach.
Vancouver is the most recent stop on a list of professional soccer accomplishments.
Hamlett moved to Kensington from Costa Rica with his mother when he was 10. After graduating from Einstein in 1987, he played Division I soccer for a year at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, before finishing his college career at George Mason in 1992.
He was inducted into the Mason Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Einstein Hall of Fame in 2010.
In the summers of 1992 and ’93 Hamlett played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the American Professional Soccer League. In the fall of 1992, he played the first of two seasons with the Harrisburg Heat in the National Professional Soccer League.
In 1996, he was drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the second round Major League Soccer’s inaugural draft and was named Tough Defender of the Year.
After he was forced into early retirement the following year, he joined the Chicago Fire coaching staff as an assistant in 1998. He stayed with the Fire for 12 seasons, takin on the head coaching job in 2008-09.
Getting back to the D.C. area, and seeing his family and friends in the stands, always brings back fond memories, Hamlett said. It reminds him what he’s always loved most about soccer.
“Soccer is the sport that anyone can play,” he said. “That what makes it the sport you see people playing every weekend in the parks. Being back here makes me think about when I was a kid playing youth soccer, dreaming I could play on the high school team. I never thought I would’ve been able to come back as a professional player.”
Though Hamlett has not been too involved in Montgomery County soccer the past two decades, he credits area clubs and coaches with getting him to where he is and said developing a soccer program back home in the county is a future possibility.
Maryland already is making its presence known in the professional soccer world, Hamlett said.
“That’s something I’ve always thought about, coming back to the area,” he said. “For right now I want to see where professional coaching can take me, but you never know how things play out in this profession.
“If an opportunity arises for me to come back and have my own club in Maryland, that’s definitely something I’d like to do. Wherever I go I try to help the kids build a foundation.”