VANCOUVER – Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Eric Hassli has a knack for the spectacular. Last season he saved his most outrageous goal for the club’s biggest MLS rival, the Seattle Sounders, scoring an MLS Goal of the Year-nominated effort on June 11, 2011.
Wednesday night, as the Vancouver Whitecaps drew 1-1 with Toronto FC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship, Hassli conjured up another piece of artistry that will long live in the memories of those at BC Place.
The big Frenchman saved his big moment for the final minute of the match, powering home a volley past Milos Kocic from a fine cross from left fullback Alain Rochat to salvage the draw for his team.
“Alain [Rochat] gave me a great ball,” Hassli told reporters following the match. “I practiced yesterday. I killed some birds [with wayward shots] and today was pretty good – lucky too. It’s a good goal.”
Good goal indeed. Hassli’s effort was more than just eye candy – it was a vital marker that kept Vancouver very much in the tie going into next week’s second leg at BMO Field.
But, while the hero on the night acknowledged the importance of the goal, he couldn’t hide his disappointment at not picking up a win against a side which has lost all of its MLS league matches this season.
“We stay alive,” Hassli said. “We have to win now in Toronto. Everybody is disappointed in the locker room. We really need to win in Toronto.”
It was one of those goals that even the opposition couldn’t help but admire. Ryan Johnson, who thought he’d won the first leg for TFC with a headed goal in the 66th minute, could only praise Hassli when asked to describe the final-minute stunner.
“It’s just a great goal, man,” Johnson said. “I’m surprised he wasn’t starting. He’s a quality player, man. He’s big, strong, such good feet. He’s a very respectable player in this league. Just the qualities that he has – he showed it, and tonight he showed it again. Hats off to him – it was a beauty.”
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who kept Vancouver in the match with a vital save off Nick Soolsma with six minutes left in the match from close range, stated Hassli’s presence as much as his raw ability proved decisive.
“For whatever reason, we play differently with Eric,” Cannon said. “He tends to hold the ball well and create things. It seems like the energy of not only the team, but the whole stadium goes up when he gets in the game. It was a great finish, and a great ball from Alain, and hopefully a bit of momentum going into next week.”