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Eric Hassli Might Waste Time with the All-Stars? Fine!

Hey now, you're an All-Star.
Hey now, you're an All-Star.

Long-time readers of this site will know without being told that I hate the Major League Soccer All-Star Game. You'll probably guess that I'll think it's a spectacle aimed at fat cats and people who are not and will probably never be real fans of MLS. It's a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of our players' finite energy which proves nothing but North America's desperate inferiority complex vis-a-vis the great European leagues.

And you'd be absolutely right. The MLS All-Star Game is dull, meaningless soccer. One team out of shape and one team with no chemistry battling at a neutral site before a lukewarm crowd to decide nothing. It could get worse if there was a marching band.

So I must be upset: Vancouver Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli has been named to the All-Star non-playing roster. As it stands Hassli won't go to New York but if an injury takes out one of the All-Star forwards then Eric gets the call. He'll head off, put on a strange shirt, get beat by Manchester United, and risk injury in the name of pleasing some guys in $5,000 suits who wanted to see that Rooney guy with the ears. Why on earth would I want a Whitecap to participate in such a farce, an all-too-American piece of showmanship that's a nigh-intolerable event in baseball or hockey and even worse for soccer?

In fact, while my disdain for the All-Star Game is so intense I can cut glass with it, I'm pleased for Hassli's nomination to the team. More to the point, I hope he gets to play. I hope he heads to Red Bull Arena, plays as much as the coach will let him, and gets a good run out against the glamorous Manchester United defenders. I hope he has an absolute ball. I don't even mind if he has to miss a regular season game to recover.

I wouldn't feel this way most years but this is a special case. The Whitecaps' 2011 season is, with the exception of the Cascadia Cup, over. The playoffs are an impossible goal, the Voyageurs Cup ended with the CSA's shame and our defeat, and the CONCACAF Champions League has been reduced to a "go anybody but TFC!" competition.

In the circumstances we should be looking to 2012. Part of that means bringing in new players, giving the prospects some playing time, and identifying the scrap that must be jettisoned, of course... but it also means keeping the stars happy. Making sure that the precious few who have been net positives for the 2011 Whitecaps want to play their hearts out for the 2012 edition.

I don't believe the grumbling fans who assert, without evidence, that Hassli is unhappy in Vancouver. That said, no professional athlete likes losing and Hassli is as upset with this Wooden Spoon season as anybody. So we should be pleased that Hassli has something to be proud of: showing our stars that just because the team is rubbish doesn't mean they don't get recognition or individual accolades. That playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps isn't a one-way path to career death.

Down with the MLS All-Star Game, but for now, it's useful.

You remember when Hassli last left the Whitecaps' fold to collect some individual silverware? He put on a suit and went to the ESPYs, the most hysterically stupid event in the entire world of sports, where he was up for "Best Play" as judged by the sorts of people who watch ESPN (for example, the 2005 ESPY for "Best Play" went to a high school basketball field goal instead of the greatest curling shot in recent memory).

It was obvious he wasn't going to win and he didn't. The winner was a rather pedestrian Abby Wambach goal, significant only because it was an important goal by an American for the United States national team in a World Cup and it had happened recently enough that it got a wave of "I can't remember anything beyond the last five minutes!" votes. The Wambach goal actually got passed through to the final round despite not having been initially nominated because the ESPYs aren't real awards. They've always been a joke, and unlike most jokes in sports they're actually funny.

The award ceremony was on July 13 in Los Angeles and Hassli was due to play with the Whitecaps July 16 in Vancouver. He missed practices and made a non-trivial flight so he could sit with physiotherapist Graham Poole and not win. Yet there was Hassli, seemingly having a whale of time, seemingly delighted to be a finalist and upset to have lost. Why wouldn't he be? The ESPYs may be irrelevant, ridiculous, self-important, and borderline rigged to an outside observer, but even if all that's true to an athlete it's still the world's biggest sports media organization giving you an award confirming your excellence. If I were up for an ESPY you're damned right I'd take time off work to go to the ceremony!

As it transpired the July 16 game, at home to Real Salt Lake, was canceled due to unplayable field conditions so it didn't make a difference anyway. Of course, Hassli didn't know that at the time he left and the Whitecaps didn't know that at the time they let him.

Similarly, the MLS All-Star Game is a waste of fan time and athlete energy... but by all accounts many of the players genuinely enjoy it. Some players who have been to a few or have key league games coming up will milk an injury to get out of duty, but for a first-year MLS player like Hassli a chance to take the field against Manchester United alongside the best in the league would be a rare treat.

If the Whitecaps were one position and two points out of a playoff spot, or if they had a CONCACAF Champions League match coming up, my position would be different. I'd tap Eric on the shoulder and say "Eric, I'm sure you'd love to play with the All-Stars but you have that nagging groin problem and we really need you for the next game." I'm certain Hassli would understand, and frankly any player who wouldn't is a player I wouldn't want on my team.

The Whitecaps aren't in contention, though. Our next game of real consequence isn't until August 20 in Portland. So let Hassli have his fun with the All-Stars and, if he gets to go to the game, cheer him on. He's earned a chance to have the spotlight shine on him. Let's give him one more fond memory in this awful season.