Toronto FC has locked up one of its marquee players for next season.
Earl Cochrane, TFC’s director of team and player operations, told sportsnet.ca on Monday that the club has exercised its contract option on Eric Hassli.
The French striker’s future has been the subject of debate and speculation ever since the 2012 Major League Soccer regular season ended last month — specifically whether Hassli would remain as a designated player or if TFC would renegotiate and get him to sign a new deal for lesser money.
But Cochrane confirmed that Hassli will remain with the club as a DP.
“We’ve decided to exercise the option on his contract. There’s no new contract, it’s just exercising the option on the existing contract, meaning he’ll be a part of our plans next season,” Cochrane said.
Hassli earned $790, 000 US in 2012, and ranked as the third highest-paid player on the team behind fellow DPs Torsten Frings ($2.4 million) and Danny Koevermans ($1.5 million).
Hassli, 31, was acquired in a trade from the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 20, his arrival in Toronto hastened by the knee injury that ruled out Koevermans for the remainder of the campaign.
Viewed by some as a short-time replacement for Koevermans, Hassli did enough to impress Cochrane and head coach Paul Mariner to remain a member of TFC, who finished last place in the league with a 5-21-8 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
“We had some discussions about how Eric fit into the way we want to play (in 2013) when everyone is healthy. We had discussions about what our season is going to look like from start to finish, and we always landed at a situation where we thought Eric would be a big part of our success, and a big contributing part of our success. So we decided to keep him,” Cochrane stated.
How, exactly, does the team want to play in its first full season under Mariner? And how does Hassli fit in?
“It’s going to change from time to time but for the most part we want to be aggressive. We want to be attack-minded. We want to be putting teams on the back foot,” Cochrane explained.
“But I think we also want to be tactically and system-oriented to the point where we’re responsible. Where this is what it’s going to take to win, and this is how we’re going to play. I think we’ll be lined up in a couple of systems … and Eric continues to be good for the way we want to do that.”
Hassli scored 12 league goals during his season and a half in Vancouver. It could have been more had the hulking Frenchman not been bothered by disciplinary and injury problems.
Injuries continued to hound him in Toronto, where he scored three goals but was limited to just seven league appearances.
Renowned for scoring highlight-reel goals — his strike for Vancouver against Toronto before the trade has been nominated for FIFA goal of the year — Hassli also has a reputation for ill-discipline. He earned 14 yellow cards and one red card as a Whitecaps, and two yellow cards with Toronto.
But Cochrane maintains Hassli’s disciplinary record never factored against him in TFC’s decision to exercise their contract option.
“The discipline thing never factored into it; we never thought about that,” Cochrane said. “Part of the reason why Eric sometimes picks up a silly yellow card, it’s partly because of the abuse he’s taken. Some of it has gone unnoticed and we’ve had discussions with the league about that, and we’ll continue to do so.”
It’s a bit of a gamble for TFC to keep Hassli as a DP considering his history of injury problems in the league. Cochrane, though, is confident the Frenchman will arrive for pre-season training in January fully healthy.
“He’s had a couple of injuries over the last few months since he’s been here. But we’re confident that with the plan we sent him away with, the off-season plan, the people that we’ve hooked him up with … we’re confident that we’re going to have him fit and ready to go for the season,” Cochrane proclaimed.
In other TFC news, Cochrane said Frings will be ready to “hit the ground running” when pre-season training begins and fully expects the German to be available to play once the regular season starts. Koevermans is further behind in recovering from his injury, with Cochrane pegging the Dutch striker’s return to playing sometime between end of April and mid May.
Also, Joao Plata is expected to be back with the club in January after spending the latter half of the 2012 MLS season on loan in his native Ecuador.