Like most of you, after listening to the Kevin Payne news conference and after talking with folks connected to DC United, I am struggling to label this strange new emotion... optimism. A man with a plan and the experience to implement it. He would be making the decisions, in consultation with his staff of course but make no mistake, he was going to turn this around.
Sigh. You had me at "Hello."
As my wife reminds me, the honeymoon phase doesn't last very long. My eyebrows immediately assumed their "WTF" position when I was clicking around the TFC website and I re-read the decision to exercise the option on Eric Hassli just two days ago.
It's not so much that they did it. Most people expected the option to be exercised. What bothered me was that this decision was executed on the day when the inbound President and General Manager officially leaves his DC United role and 24 hours later assumes his post in Toronto.
Is this the type of player that Payne would have wanted? In Payne's press conference he indicated his desire to play a style that favoured pressing high. This requires attitude and athleticism. Hassli isn't exactly known for his desire to press high. That may be my opinion but it was also the opinion of Mark Weber of the Vancouver newspaper The Province, who wrote about Hassli before he was traded to Toronto. Said Weber:
Rennie's 4-3-3 system, which defensively looks more like 4-5-1, demands plenty of running up top, and Hassli covers far less ground than Sebastien Le Toux or Mattocks. That's part of the reason why Hassli's seen so few starts.
Further, Payne could not have been consulted on this move. All conversations leading up to this decision would have been held while Payne was still under contract to DC United. To engage in any discussion related to players and/or strategy would have put him in a clear conflict of interest. We are left with the reality that our previous acting General Manager executed a commitment to an oft injured player who takes up a Designated Player slot and significant budget room shortly before his boss was announced? Really?
Sounds like a real scoop, doesn't it?
I wanted to end the speculation and suggest that we collectively lower our WTF eyebrows. For some of you, I am hoping that eyebrows is plural... though uni-brows can come in handy for keeping dust off your nose.
A league source confirms that Wednesday was the deadline that teams had to notify the league on options in advance of the re-entry draft. It is most likely that Toronto did not have any additional time to sit with Payne and review this decision in more depth. They went with what they knew at the time.
As a result, we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that Earl Cochrane and Paul Mariner acted with due diligence to protect what they believed was an important asset to the team. We can question whether the asset itself is of value but we can't question the timing.
Was it the right decision? My crystal ball is broken though you know I am of the opinion that it is a huge risk and ideally they can move his contract this season. I guess we'll see what the new GM is thinking as time progresses.
Dare I contribute to the notion that we love our puns here at Waking the Red and ask; can Hassli handle the Payne over the long term?