Frenchman Eric Hassli scored two goals in the Whitecaps' MLS debut. (CP Photo)
The scouting report on the Vancouver Whitecaps ahead of the 2011 Major League Soccer season was that they were offensively impotent, that goals would be a premium for the west coast team.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Whitecaps managed to ship four goals past Toronto FC in their league debut last week.
One game doesn't disprove the theory and the Whitecaps' goals did come against a TFC defence that, to put it charitably, looked disorganized.
Nor would it be wise to hail Eric Hassli, scorer of two goals against the Reds, as the league's new super star after one match. Still, the TFC game did provide fans a glimpse of Hassli's potential to shine in MLS.
When the Whitecaps signed Hassli to a DP contract just weeks before the season, many Vancouver fans asked "who?"
Played in Switzerland
The Frenchman spent the past four years with FC Zurich, helping the Swiss club reached the group stage of last year's UEFA Champions League.
Clearly, Hassli has some pedigree, but many thought the Whitecaps had lost the plot when they took a gamble on signing a player bedevilled by injuries and who turns 30 in May.
Hassli is no Thierry Henry or Juan Pablo Angel, to be sure. He's not going to blow by defenders with his speed or lob goalkeepers from 40 yards out. But his six-foot-four, 200-pound frame makes him an ideal front-man in a league noted for its physical play.
We certainly saw evidence of that against TFC when Hassli forced his way out of traffic inside the penalty area to hammer a Davide Chiumiento cross by Reds goalkeeper Stefan Frei with his left foot and then tap a Wes Knight pass with his right.
Hassli used his size to great effect, bullying and harassing TFC's defenders until he was subbed out with seven minutes left in regulation.
"I thought he was a handful," Toronto fullback Dan Gargan said after the game.
"I don't think you could ask much more out of your forwards. He was a big body. I don't want to say he was dirty but he certainly flirted with the line of physical intimidation."
Size and skill
Throwing his weight around inside the box is just one important aspect of Hassli's game. He also uses his size and strength to hold the ball up while the Whitecaps are in possession, thus allowing him to bring his smaller, attacking teammates - most notably Chiumiento, Terry Dunfield and Russell Thiebert - into the play.
"He has a big importance for us, in terms of keeping the ball, so we can move the team out. His physical presence up there is very important for us," said Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson.
But Hassli is not just some lumbering battering ram up front. He possesses a keen finishing touch and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"He is dangerous in and around the box. He's a goal-scorer. He doesn't need many chances to score and he proved that [against TFC]," said Thordarson.
Have the Whitecaps found a gem in Hassli? It remains to be seen, but his budding MLS career is off to a great start - and in one game, he already scored more goals than Mista, TFC's DP flop signing from a season ago.
Maybe it wasn't so much of a gamble by the Whitecaps, after all.
Follow John F. Molinaro on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/JohnMolinaro
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