Martin Rennie has certainly put his stamp on the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club.
Today, he traded the most popular player in it's MLS history and the face of the franchise to Toronto FC for a 2014 SuperDraft 1st Round Pick and an international roster spot.
It has become more and more apparent throughout the year that Eric Hassli wasn't in the plans under the new regime, and it looked like his days in Vancouver were winding down. Certainly there had already been chatter among supporters that Hassli would likely be leaving or taking a pay cut to remain with the 'Caps.
It shouldn't be any shock, then, when it was announced today that Hassli was traded. The return and the trading partner might have been somewhat of a surprise, but if you boil it all down, it comes down to two basic facts.
Hassli wasn't going to be in the blue and white next season, and Toronto needed a striker now.
Much was made about Hassli's mighty paycheck to match his mighty image. Being as he is the number one jersey seller, he obviously had some fans, but many people wondered how to justify a Designated Player contract and an over a quarter million dollar a year contract for someone who has only scored 2 goals in the MLS in his last 28 appearances.
Big picture, though, it will hard to argue that the ownership group of the Whitecaps didn't hit an absolute home run by signing the enigmatic Frenchman.
Eric Hassli came to the Whitecaps as a relative unknown. Although he was the first DP signing for the Whitecaps, he was never capped by his home country of France, and although had a decent strike rate, came from the Swiss league, not exactly considered a top talent pool.
It didn't take long for Hassli to settle in and win everyone over. In the 15th minute, the Frenchman blasted in his first goal in the MLS and the first for the Vancouver Whitecaps on a beautiful sunny day at Empire Field, in front of a packed and electric crowd, against rivals Toronto FC.
Later in the season, he would score what is easily the goal of the season in the MLS (and would probably make the top 5 in the world for 2011) against equally hated rivals Seattle to earn a valuable road point, and more importantly, crush the spirits of the home fans to the delight of 600 or so away supporters.
He also scored a second wonder volley, this time in the 2012 Voyageur's Cup against Toronto, and also earned 3 points with a last second stoppage time winner against high flying San Jose.
Hassli had a flair for the dramatic, which was only one of the many reasons he was so damn easy to like.
Eric seemed to have a special connection with the fans. He was always available for a photo, an autograph, or a wave, and he seemed to enjoy interacting with the fans as much as they did with he. His quirky sense of humour, quotable interviews, and unique image all played into the mystique surrounding Vancouver's first MLS star.
This is what I will remember Eric Hassli for. No one should be embarrassed by wearing a Hassli kit to a match despite his departure. He's provided what will likely reign as supporters' fondest memories of the club for years to come.
Unfortunately, while there was still much love between Hassli and the fans, the on field product had slipped. The reality of only scoring 2 goals in the last 28 MLS matches has caught up to him, and Martin Rennie was not willing to wait around for Hassli to snap out of it.
I don't think anyone is stupid enough to truly believe this was a good football trade. Without question, the single international spot and whoever we get from the 2014 MLS SuperDraft will never amount to the pure footballing ability that Hassli possesses, but that's not what this trade is about.
It's about clearing up a Designated Player roster spot. It's about opening up the availability of acquiring further international players, and it's about shedding a massive salary on a player who may not even get any more first eleven minutes for the rest of the season.
This trade is about moving forward and getting better now. Martin Rennie has seven more days, two international roster spots, and a hefty bundle of cash to improve the squad with. It's the only thing that would make sense after shipping off what is still, at very least, a serviceable striker with a heavy shot, quality hold up play, and decent distribution. The grading of this move will be done a week from now after the transfer window closes and we're certain of our lineup. We then will find out if we wasted a superb talent, a quality person, and a local icon, or if we made a smart move by getting something for an asset which we would have let walk away at the end of the year anyway, and used those resources instead to immediately improve.
Your feelings of the move aside, I'm certain we can all agree on one thing.
Eric Hassli has provided us all, hardcore supporter and casual sports fan alike, with moments that are the reason sports exist. The jaw dropping awe. That hair on the back of your neck moment of pure excitement, and the scream at the top of your lungs emotion. He was the Vancouver Whitecaps first star of the MLS era, first local icon, and I'm sure he has turned more than one young boy or girl into a life long Blue & White supporter.
For that, he was worth every penny of his contract and the Whitecaps Front Office, Technical Staff, and ownership group should be happy that they got their moneys worth.
So, merci beaucoup Eric, and good luck in Toronto.
Vive le roi Eric.