According to multiple reports in the Swiss press, the Vancouver Whitecaps have signed 29-year-old French forward Eric Hassli.
Though he got his start with FC Metz in Ligue 1 and had a brief, successful loan stint with Southampton, Hassli has spent most of his career in the Swiss leagues since signing with Neuchâtel Xamax FC in 2003. Hassli presumably comes well-recommended: since 2007 he has been with FC Zürich, making him a long-time former teammate of Whitecaps left back Alain Rochat. Though it has not yet been widely reported on this side of the Atlantic, Hassli's signing has been announced as a done deal by multiple parties in the Swiss press, the most significant of which being the German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung (their article). Hassli's contract with Zürich ran until June but, supposedly as a gesture of appreciation for Hassli's service with the club, Zürich has agreed to release Hassli early.
The arrival of Hassli gives the Whitecaps only their second experienced professional forward under contract, joining Atiba Harris. The Whitecaps have not yet released any official comment or confirmation of the signing, and it seems altogether too much to hope that Hassli will be with the team in time for our first game of the Cascadia Summit on Saturday against the Portland Timbers. There is also no word on whether Hassli is a designated player: given his professional history and the way the Whitecaps have already liberated so many other players from Switzerland, I suspect he is not. The Whitecaps have been linked to a number of other prominent Swiss players, including Alexandre Frei. Hassli, however, is the first they've managed to sign, and he comes with just over two weeks until the Whitecaps kick off against Toronto FC at Empire Fields.
Hassli is a strong, powerful target man best known for his sheer strength. Standing 6'4" and well-built on top of that, Hassli's earned a reputation as a "bull in a china shop" though his skills were good enough to survive in the relatively technical Swiss first division. He's a smooth finisher who's taken penalties for Zürich and apparently has surprisingly good playmaking skills for a target man. However, Hassli hasn't got the best strike rate in Switzerland and, by reputation, is neither quick nor agile. The FC Zürich supporters seemed to take to him, and he's been referred to as a fan favourite: colourful, constantly giving his all, and scoring enough goals to keep frustration away. He's a solid professional, but he's no star.
Hassli's recent years have been marred by injury. In September of 2009 Hassli fractured his tibia, an injury that ruled him out of the Zürich lineup until April 2010. He's also suffered a variety of other knocks and minor injuries.
When he's on form, Hassli can score as well as anybody. He scored a very fair 13 goals in 34 appearances as a young man with FC St. Gallen in 2005-06, and in his career year Hassli piled in 17 goals in 27 appearances, 25 of which were starts, for Zürich in 2008-09. His lifetime strike rate marks him as easily the most accomplished goalscorer in the Vancouver lineup already, but such heady seasons are not the norm for Hassli. This season, Hassli has four goals in sixteen league appearances for Zürich and has come off the bench six times: heady stuff for the Whitecaps, but not sufficiently compelling for the Swiss title chasers to keep Hammli around.
Hassli's size and strength seem to be a natural fit for Major League Soccer. His recent injury history is far more concerning, but by most accounts Hassli has put it behind him and he's generally been a durable player in his career. Though not necessarily quick enough to develop chances on his own, Hassli will fit into a lineup loaded with good playmakers through midfield and that may feature Hassli's ex-leaguemate Davide Chiumiento laying back playing him through. Depending (as always in this league) on the terms of the contract, Hassli may be a very useful signing for the Whitecaps. But a star? He simply hasn't got the all-round ability to be one of the league's leading forwards.
Still. He's big, reliable, and has proven he can score for years. At only 29 years old, he's still in the tail-end of his prime. This is a good player and a good get for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Edit: Hassli has been announced as the Whitecaps' first designated player. Um... I realize we were desperate, guys. And, y'know, it's not like we could carry the designated player spot into next season if we don't use it. Nor that we haven't got one spot left for free and one more if we want to pay the league. I just... really?