Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli was sent off in Vancouver's 1-0 loss to Philadelphia (Getty Images)
Eric Hassli knows better. Yes, there was provocation but he needs to be smarter. Getting himself sent off in a 1-0 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday not only cost the Vancouver Whitecaps at least a point on their first Major League Soccer road trip, but his lack of discipline will have wider implications.
Let's be clear. The giant French striker is going to be a handful in MLS. He announced himself in glorious fashion with an opening day brace against Toronto FC. He will score plenty more but for now Hassli is making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Hassli has been around a while. He understands how soccer works. He is not some adrenalin-charged kid who lunges at opponents with abandon. Hassli is a veteran campaigner who knows how to lead a line and has the battle scars to prove it.
The Whitecaps' inaugural away game always carried a physical threat about it. Philadelphia, last year's expansion team, has quickly earned a reputation for what we might charitably describe as its battling qualities. Suffice to say, the Union don't take prisoners.
Maintain mental edge
Vancouver, as 2011 co-rookies along with Portland, needs to establish many things. Among its chief on-field priorities is a 'tough-to-beat' mentality which opponents will respect. Without it, the Whitecaps will lose the mental edge against many rivals.
It was thus no surprise to this observer the first ever MLS meeting between Philadelphia and Vancouver was not for the purists. It was short on skill and long on commitment. Every loose ball was keenly contested as the free kick total rose rapidly.
Sooner or later the referee had to make a stand. A stern talking to or a final warning can only temporarily diffuse a situation. Eventually the cards began to appear as the official desperately tried to keep control of an increasingly hostile environment.
Hassli was the first to be cautioned and his yellow card set a tone of deteriorating behaviour. For all the plaudits of the previous weekend, his booking demonstrated a darker side to his game. His petulant kick at Union defender Danny Califf was simply unprofessional.
Califf is no angel - just ask Julian de Guzman. The Philly captain and central defender was, himself, yellow carded minutes later but the Union hard man was still standing when Yadar Reyes, one of Major League Soccer's less experienced referees, blew the final whistle.
Not so Hassli. In a tight game where muscle stifled creativity, the Whitecaps' Designated Player transgressed once again. His late challenge on Carlos Valdes left the referee no choice but to reach for his pocket again. Hassli's early exit changed the game.
With little offensive outlet, the Whitecaps were forced to retreat. The home side mounted attack after attack in the final half hour with the inevitable result. The visitors' rearguard was finally breached, and a game from which they looked good for at least a share of the spoils was lost.
Suspended for KC game
Two things will now happen. Hassli will be missing next week when Sporting Kansas City come calling. His red card means an automatic suspension, forcing Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson to alter his game plan accordingly. His options are limited.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Hassli is now a marked man. Referees across MLS will take note of Mr. Reyes' match report and keep a keen eye on him from this point forward. Hassli's actions will be closely monitored when he returns.
Hassli is not the only villain and should not be cast as such. Indeed, SKC will be missing its own DP on Saturday after Omar Bravo was controversially red carded during the defeat in Chicago. However, the facts are neither man will be of any benefit to his team sitting in the stands.
Let's not play the blame game. Vancouver might protest Hassli needs more protection or Kansas City might question the standard of refereeing. It is what it is and it will get better. But no-one held a gun to these players' heads and forced them to sign on in North America.
These are impact players the fans pay good money to come and see. Their absence, albeit temporary, does nothing for the overall quality of MLS play, or tempt the tentative supporter to get off the couch and go to the game.
These players don't have to score every game to justify their hefty salaries. Their respective careers have already influenced their perceived values in football's market place. But staying on the field for 90 minutes, barring injury, should be a minimum requirement.
Follow Nigel Reed on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/Nigel_Reed
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