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Eric Hassli, seen in 2009, is a former teammate of Vancouver defender Alain Rochat. ((Alessandro Della Bella/Keystone/Associated Press))

By signing French striker Eric Hassli as the club's first designated player Friday, the Vancouver Whitecaps added a much needed scoring threat for their first Major League Soccer season.

Hassli has spent the last 3 1/2 seasons with FC Zurich of the Swiss Super League. At six-foot-four he brings size and experience which Vancouver will need in its inaugural MLS campaign.

"He's a proven goal scorer," said Tom Soehn, Vancouver's director of soccer operations. "He's a big guy and can score in many different ways, whether it be his feet or his head.

"He's a presence in the box. He's a guy that has very good technical abilities. He makes players around him better."

The Whitecaps have managed few goals against MLS teams while playing exhibition matches. Midfielder-forward Atiba Harris, who Vancouver claimed from FC Dallas in the expansion draft in November, has been the team's only experienced attacker.

Hassli scored 36 goals in 115 competitive matches for FC Zurich. The 29-year-old had 21 goals and 10 assists in 34 appearances when the club won the Swiss Super League title in 2008-09 season.

The native of Sarreguemines, France, has five goals in 18 appearances this season, including four goals in his last three games.

The Whitecaps had said they were in no hurry to sign a designated player but the timing was right to bring Hassli into the fold.

"We've been actively in the market for forwards," Soehn said. "I think with every player you go through a checklist of availability, the qualities he brings, how that will fit into MLS.

"It has to be a good fit for us but it also has to be a good fit for the player. In this case we really felt we were able to check all those off. He was a guy we felt would make us better."

The Whitecaps have several veterans on defence. Coach Teitur Thordarson said Hassli fills a gap up front.

"It was important for us to bring in an experienced striker," Thordarson said in a release. "Strikers are a top priority for clubs around the world, and therefore difficult to secure.

"Eric is big, strong, and will give us a physical presence all over the pitch."

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi likes experience Hassli brings.

"He's a player who will make an immediate impact and will make us a better team," Lenarduzzi said in a release.

Hassli still must receive an international transfer certificate, work permit and pass a physical. Soehn expects to have Hassli in the lineup for Vancouver's opening match on March 19 against Toronto FC at Empire Field.

Being a designated player means MLS will pay the first $335,000 US of Hassli's salary, which counts against the club's $2.67-million salary cap. The Whitecaps will be on the hook for the rest.

Soehn wouldn't say how much Hassli is being paid in total.

MLS teams can have up to three designated players on their roster.

The Whitecaps now have three players under contract who played in the Swiss Super League. Hassli was a roommate with Vancouver defender Alain Rochat at FC Zurich, while midfielder Davide Chiumiento played for FC Lucerne.

"It's not like we have been targeting that area specifically," said Soehn. "It's the timing and the contract situation and how the situations aligned.

"It doesn't mean we are not exploring other markets."

Hassli has also spent time with England's Southampton, French clubs Valenciennes and FC Metz, as well as Swiss sides FC St. Gallen, Servette FC and Neuchatel Xamax FC.

The Whitecaps named defender Jay DeMerit, the team's first MLS signing, as captain last week.

With the season-opener approaching, Soehn said the team isn't done signing players.

"We're still looking for another striker," he said. "We want someone to compliment what we have.

"We are still looking for the right piece to the puzzle. We want to make sure, like we did with Eric, we get the right guy."

Soehn said MLS is becoming an attractive option for many European players.

"There is a real excitement to it," he said. "The league is growing.

"They want to be part of something special."