At times, he showed flashes of greatness. At other times, he was enigmatic.
But he was never dull.
And, now, Eric Hassli, one of the most popular and talented players in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ brief MLS history, is gone. The Whitecaps shipped the French striker to Toronto FC on Friday in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and an international spot through the 2013 season.
“It felt like it was a good move for both parties at this time,” Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi told the Canadian Press in an interview.
Lenarduzzi said the deal gave the Whitecaps an opportunity to acquire some assets after Hassli’s performance had declined and his playing time had diminished this season under new coach Martin Rennie, who often goes with a one-striker system.
With the deal, new Toronto coach Paul Mariner quickly made good on his word to find some new attacking talent for his squad after striker and leading scorer Danny Koevermans sustained a season-ending knee injury last weekend. Koeverman was hurt Saturday and Toronto contacted the Whitecaps on Sunday, said Lenarduzzi.
“Adding a player of Eric’s ability gives an immediate improvement to our club,” said Mariner in a statement. “He has had a lot of success in this league and we are pleased to bring him to Toronto.”
Hassli’s time in Vancouver was marked by both great goals and lapses in discipline. He scored two goals in Vancouver’s first-ever MLS game as the Whitecaps came back to beat Toronto 4-2. But he was also suspended for his next game, in Philadelphia.
A few weeks later, against New England, Hassli came off the bench in the second half and quickly took a yellow card for a hard tackle. Minutes later, he scored on a penalty kick and threw his jersey into the crowd — only to reveal an identical jersey underneath. He still drew a second yellow card and therefore an ejection for excessive celebration.
Lenarduzzi said Hassli quickly established himself as a key player with his hot start in Vancouver. But he could not maintain his early output.
During his Whitecaps tenure, Hassli recorded 12 goals and five assists in 44 league appearances, as well as three goals in eight Canadian championship matches. Although Hassli scored 10 goals in his first season, he also picked up an MLS-high three red cards.
“Ten goals is a significant number,” said Lenarduzzi. “Certainly, we were happy with that production, although a lot of that came in the first half last season.”
This season, Hassli managed just two goals in all competitions while accumulating six yellow cards. He spent most of the campaign as a substitute, often finding himself behind rookie Darren Mattocks and recently-departed Sebastien Le Toux, who was traded to the New York Red Bulls on July 13.
Hassli’s departure had been rumoured for weeks. But after the Whitecaps signed striker and Scottish captain Kenny Miller on Monday, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Lenarduzzi noted the Whitecaps also have newly acquired Dane Richards, Atiba Harris — who is close to returning after missing most of the past two seasons with a knee injury — and Camilo, who is listed as a midfielder but can also play up front.
Lenarduzzi said the club evaluated possible effects on team chemistry before moving Hassli, who was as popular with teammates as he was with fans. But the club ultimately had to consider performance.
“Trading Eric has been a difficult decision and we really appreciate all that he has done for the club,” said Rennie in a statement.
In Toronto, Hassli will also occupy a designated player spot, which became available after the club traded Canadian Julian de Guzman to FC Dallas for forward Andrew Wiedeman on July 13.
Hassli earned international acclaim in 2011 after scoring a tremendous goal on a long-range volley against the Seattle Sounders in June 2011. Earlier this season, he scored an equally stunning goal against Toronto in a Canadian championship match.
His scoring touch will be useful for the Reds, who have scored 24 goals in all matches this season, with nine coming from Koeverman.
By moving Hassli, the Whitecaps only have 11 players remaining from their 2011 opening day roster. Lenarduzzi said it’s obvious those moves have paid off as the Whitecaps currently sit fourth in the Western Conference.
Hassli’s depature from Vancouver effectively gives the Whitecaps two vacant international player spots. Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps could make another move before the current international transfer window closes Tuesday.