Vancouver’s Favourite Frontman: Eric Hassli

Harry Burford

It’s June 2011, thousands of jubilant Whitecaps supporters can be found vacating the steps of Seattle’s Qwest Field after witnessing their side record a hard-fought 2-2 draw with the Sounders. Whilst the game proved somewhat captivating for both sets of fans on either side of the divide, this was a fixture that will be remembered for one thing only.

On the 84th minute, with the game set to play out seemingly in the Sounders’ favour, the Vancouver Whitecaps were suddenly handed a miraculous and memorable lifeline. There’s little over five minutes of regular time left to play, but recently acquired French striker – Eric Hassli – is about to deliver a punishingly brilliant blow in remarkably steadfast fashion.

The ball pops into the air from a reasonably innocuous clearance. With little doubt or hesitation, the powerful French frontman watches it drop kindly ahead of him in what most would consider an unlikely shooting scenario. Yet the big man isn’t fazed. Instead of choosing the safe option and promptly crossing it in to one of his awaiting teammates, Hassli decides to smash the falling ball as if his life depended on it.

Bang! Just like that the crowd are silenced by the slow-motion-like scene playing out before them. The Seattle faithful can do nothing but watch on helplessly, as the ball loops all the way over Kasey Keller’s head and into the far corner like something from a dream. It was a goal forever deserving of its place within the annals of MLS history. A real moment of inspiration, scarcely replicated or emulated elsewhere.

Although the 2011 Major League Soccer season turned out to be something of a tiresome affair for the Whitecaps and everything they sought to achieve within the upper echelons of the North American soccer scene, Eric Hassli, nonetheless, provided some keen moments to remember throughout his brief spell at the club.

The frontman may have departed the well-loved Canadian city almost as swiftly as he entered, taking with him a bolshie reputation that could have amounted in so much more – but this is one powerful striker who certainly served to take the Whitecaps faithful by storm, whichever way you happen to look at it.

Eric Hassli signed for the Vancouver Whitecaps in March of 2011. Prior to introducing himself among the growing North American soccer scene, the former Ligue 1 forward had plied much of his early striking trade among the lesser known Swiss Super League.

It was here that the towering Frenchman first discovered his renowned golden touch. FC Zürich were the beneficiaries of his talent – and whilst Hassli never quite caught the undivided attention of Europe’s powerhouse elite – he certainly gained a degree of earnest recognition after scoring 18 goals in just 27 games to help his side lift the Swiss league title in 2008/09.

Hassli was fast becoming something of favoured goalscorer. He proved remarkably powerful in his approach-play, often sending opposing defenders flying with his aggressive shielding and overtly physical demeanour. At 6 ft 4 the striker clearly stood out among his contemporaries, yet fans were left somewhat surprised by just how mobile he could prove with the ball locked down at his feet.

Despite receiving reported interest from each of Everton, Ajax and Werder Bremen among the upper rungs of the European game, Eric Hassli opted to try his hand across the pond and help signal the beginning of a great adventure for the Vancouver Whitecaps within the MLS.

He became the Whitecaps’ first ever designated player and scored his club’s opening goal within Major League Soccer. Although certain doubts continued to linger over the striker’s age and supposedly questionable work-ethic, Hassli seemingly impressed more often than not with his startling ability to find the back of the net.

A scorer of truly sublime and breathtaking goals, there was no stopping Eric Hassli once he found his verve. The frontman arguably had what it took to become one of the most impressive MLS frontmen of all-time, and had the Vancouver Whitecaps not been experiencing such a torrid spell at the very foot of the Western Conference during his memorable spell at the club, perhaps he really could have been.

He was a man driven by passion and emotion. Hassli was nominated for the 2012 Puskas Award after sealing an injury time finish against Toronto FC earlier on that year, but despite the growing sense of commendation brought about by his presence – the Frenchman’s time in Vancouver wasn’t all smiles and jubilation.

Hassli would routinely find himself suspended for being unable to control himself in pressure situations. His determination was certainly admirable, but the frequency of his misdemeanours would eventually prove somewhat troubling for the Whitecaps hierarchy.

Whether it be for launching himself into a series of mad challenges, storming off towards the dressing room in isolation after facing an early substitution from his manager, or simply throwing his jersey into the roaring Whitecaps supporters on one too many occasions – Hassli was always in some kind of trouble during his time among the MLS.

Regardless of everything he achieved with his new team across the Atlantic, however, the Frenchman was rather unceremoniously cast aside once his time in Vancouver suddenly drew to a close. He would go on to play for each of Toronto FC, FC Dallas and the San Antonio Scorpions – but sadly never came close to replicating the same lofty heights he enjoyed with the Whitecaps.

Perhaps he could have announced himself as a long-term ambassador of the club had circumstances proven a little kinder to both the player and the fans who once sung his name loudly from the terraces of Empire Field. But hey, let’s not forget what the striker did in fact achieve whilst treating the Whitecaps faithful to his alluring array of goalscoring talents.

Hassli was dynamic, divisive and daring – a no-nonsense entertainer above all else. His time in Vancouver didn’t last long admittedly, and maybe the powerful French forward could have been so much better with a slightly mellower head on his shoulders, yet some of his goals were simply out of this world. They continue to serve as some of the finest moments ever recorded in MLS history, and no one can take that away from him.

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