Newcomer Nicolas Hasler adds versatility to Toronto FC

Nicolas Hasler, middle, in action for Liechtenstein's national team. (Shakh Aivazov/AP)

TORONTO – Should Toronto FC ever host an open mic comedy competition amongst its players and staff, newcomer Nicolas Hasler might run away with the competition.

A day after signing with the Major League Soccer club, Hasler showed off his biting wit when speaking to the media about his homeland. Located between Switzerland and Austria, the tiny principality of Liechtenstein has a land mass of 160 square kilometres – making it the fourth smallest nation in Europe – and an approximate population of 37,000.

“A lot of nature, you have there. It’s really calm. Mountains. Maybe you’ll come to Liechtenstein to visit. In 20 minutes, you have seen everything. From south to north, it’s 20 minutes. You can run the whole country in one hour,” Hasler quipped with reporters.

He later added: “I have to adapt also to the distance from downtown to the stadium and to the training ground [in Toronto]. Everything is different. In my country, I wake up, I go from my home at 9 o’clock and I arrive 9:05 at the stadium. Everything is much bigger here.”

His line about the entire population of Liechtenstein being able to fit inside BMO Field wasn’t exactly true, as TFC’s home stadium only holds 28, 500 fans. But it still had the local media in stitches.

Impeccable comedic delivery aside, what else does Hasler offer Toronto FC? In a word, versatility. The 26-year-old can play a number of positions, including right fullback, wingback and in central midfield. He’s also been deployed as a striker for Liechtenstein’s national team.

During Hassler’s six-year stint with FC Vaduz, a Liechtenstein-based club that competes in the Swiss League, he was mostly used in midfield. But with the recent injury to Steven Beitashour and the uncertainty over when he might return to action, Hasler was brought in to reinforce and add more depth to the right side of the field.

Still, it’s comforting to know he can play more than one position, a trait that TFC, even with all of its bench depth, finds especially attractive.

“He’s a very versatile player, so he’s not specifically a right-side player. He can also play underneath the strikers; there’s a lot of different roles than he can fulfill within our group, and provide us depth and starting minutes,” TFC coach Greg Vanney explained.

Hasler has spent the bulk of his pro career with FC Vaduz, who was recently relegated to the Swiss second division after finishing in last place in Switzerland’s Super League during the 2016-17 season. In total, Hasler made 157 appearances with Vaduz in all competitions, scoring 14 goals and tallying six assists in all competitions, and was named Liechtensteiner Footballer of the Year in 2015.

He left the club last month after he was unable to come to terms on a new contract. Hasler said he was contacted by TFC two and half weeks ago, just after Beitashour picked up his injury. Although the deal came about fairly quickly, the club had been tracking Hasler for some time, and spoke with him two years ago during a European scouting trip.

“Tactically, he’s faced a number of challenges, especially against opposition in European qualifying and World Cup qualifying, and within [the Swiss league]. We felt there were a number of boxes that he checked, and he had good character,” Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko said.

Like any player coming to MLS from abroad, there will be a period of adjustment for Hasler, who is the first player from Liechtenstein to join the league. Not only does he have to get used to the style of play in MLS and TFC’s tactics, but also the travel involved and the major cultural differences.

Vanney believes Hasler, who is in Toronto by himself – his girlfriend is back in Liechtenstein, and might come for a visit in August – will be able to catch on to life in MLS and to living in a new country.

“His ability to adapt in the locker room and connect with people won’t be very difficult because he’s a good guy who is very open and easy to get along with,” Vanney offered.

“He’s travelled a lot, he’s very experienced, and our club does good job of helping guys settle in off the field.”

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