No player captured the imagination of Whitecaps supporters quite like forward Eric Hassli when their MLS adventure first began. The Frenchman seemed to collect both goals and red cards in a cavalier fashion that promised a roller coaster ride of entertainment for the whole season.
Things have changed though. Since a fifth yellow card earned him a further suspension Hassli has become more roundhead than cavalier and although the bookings have dried up the goals have too, and in the 0-0 tie against Chicago he looked unsure of himself even when he had a clear chance to win the game.
The former fan favourite now has people in the stands questioning whether he is worth the $900,000 per year that the Whitecaps are paying their Designated Player, but the Wednesday night game against San Jose offered Hassli the opportunity for redemption. Did he take it?
Vancouver were playing 4-4-2 again with Camilo once more starting as his partner up front, and things began positively. Hassli probably has the best first touch of any Whitecap and the midfield were playing balls to his feet which meant that possession was not lost as easily as in recent matches where the team has resorted to hitting optimistic, but aimless, long balls forward.
Once the ball was at his feet though the problems became clear. Hassli’s natural starting position seems to be to receive the ball with his back to goal which means that he needs runners moving passed him if the attack is to flourish. Too often on Wednesday he was presented with at best one option, and on more than one occasion no option at all.
The move then inevitably breaks down leaving Hassli looking like the culprit and increasing the frustration amongst the supporters. It must be frustrating for the player too because when he is given the opportunity to pick out a telling pass more often than not he will do so, certainly far more than Camilo who must surely be running out of chances to impress as a starter.
If Hassli is to be a useful component of the team (and his salary means that he really should be) then either the players around him need to be far more positive when he receives the ball or the system itself needs to change.
Playing him as a lone striker would give the midfield players greater freedom to move forward and would also give Hassli more players to look for when he has the ball, making it so much harder for the oppostion defence to predict the way the move will develop.
Retaining possession is like gold dust in Major League Soccer, but retaining possession with attacking intent is even rarer.
The Whitecaps have a player who can let them do both. They need to use him.
Tags: Eric Hassli Camillo, featured, Major League Soccer; MLS, Vancouver Whitecaps, World soccer