VANCOUVER — Thomas Hasal didn’t have to be a doctor to know something was seriously wrong with his left hand.
The Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper had his hand on the ball at the same time a Toronto FC player kicked it during a Major League Soccer match May 8.
“I remember my hand was hurting,” said Hasal. “It was kind of burning, a tingling sensation. I pressed my finger in my glove and my glove was empty because my finger wasn’t there.
“I thought `this is weird.”’
Hasal ripped his glove off to discover the middle finger on his left hand was dislocated and the bone sticking out of the skin. The ligaments in his index finger were also torn.
“I was like, is this real?” he said.
It took over three months of recovery, but Hasal returned to backstop the Whitecaps in Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids which moved Vancouver above the Western Conference playoff line for the first time this season.
Hasal will be back in goal when the Whitecaps (9-11-6) continue their playoff hunt Saturday night against Real Salt Lake (10-8-7) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With eight games remaining, Hasal is thrilled to be contributing during Vancouver’s playoff drive.
“Playing again feels amazing,” said the Saskatoon native, who was developed at the Whitecaps FC Saskatchewan Academy Centre. “It’s the best feeling in the world to be playing with the team . . . knowing that every single point, every single game matters.
“It is our season right now that we’re pushing for. To be able to come back and make a difference when it matters most is going to add to that feeling.”
Head coach Vanni Sartini believes Hasal has the ability to not only be an important piece of the Whitecaps success, but also play for Canada at the international level.
“Thomas was the No. 1 at the beginning of the season for a reason, because he’s not only the present but the future of this organization (and can be) ready to play at the highest level possible,” said Sartini.
Cody Cropper replaced the injured Hasal and posted a 7-3-4 record. Hasal was 3-6-1 before his injury.
Heading into the weekend, Vancouver holds the seventh and final playoff spot in the West with 33 points. Six teams are jockeying for position down the stretch, with just three points separating sixth-place L.A. Galaxy (33 points) from 11th-place Colorado (31).
Real Salt Lake are fifth in the West with 37 points. They have an impressive 7-2-3 record at home but have lost their last two home matches after going unbeaten in the first 10 games.
Sartini said Real Salt Lake likes to play an aggressive, direct game. The players are used to competing at altitude and try to wear out their opponents.
“We need to be intelligent during the game,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard to do the kind of high demanding pressing game for the entire game.”
Hasal’s return comes at the same time new Whitecaps like midfielders Alessandro Schopf (who was signed earlier this month) and Julian Gressel (obtained in a July trade from D.C. United) are finding their legs.
Gressel made a pretty play to set up the first of two Ryan Gauld goals against Colorado.
“Not only are they rested . . . they want to show that they can be there and may be willing to give the extra mile during the game,” said Sartini.
Hasal believes the Whitecaps can repeat what happened last year when the team shook off a slow start to battle their way into the playoffs.
“I think we’ve got a lot of pieces,” he said. “We saw it last year down the stretch when we started coming together. If we play the way we know we can play, we can get results anywhere.
“It’s about coming together, doing what we can do, focusing on what we can control. If we do all that, we’re a hard team to play.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (9-11-6) at REAL SALT LAKE (10-8-7)
Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday 7 p.m. MDT
INJURY REPORT: Striker Brian White (ribs), and defender Javain Brown (left ankle sprain) are both doubtful for Vancouver. Forward Deiber Caicedo is out for the season following meniscus surgery on right knee.
BACK IN THE FOLD: Forward Cristian Dajome returns to the Whitecaps’ lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with a yellow card suspension.
GAULDLY PERFORMANCE: Midfielder Ryan Gauld scored two first half goals against Colorado Wednesday night. That made him the first Whitecap to score a pair of first-half goals since Alphonso Davies against Portland in October 2018.
RAINING GOALS: The Whitecaps have scored a goal in nine consecutive matches. Vancouver hasn’t scored in 10 straight MLS matches since April-June 2016.
WINNER TAKE ALL: None of the last 18 matches between Real Salt Lake and Vancouver had ended in a draw. The Whitecaps have won 11 times.