This story comes to us from Soccer by Ives who reported that Eric Hassli is looking to force his way out of Toronto despite signing a new DP deal with the club after the end of the 2012 season. It would seem that somewhere in the hiring of a new club president and the changes in the coaching staff the forward has become unhappy.
Now before panic becomes too wide spread this story has not really been reported in too many other sources but there was one part in the Ives article which struck me as being fairly telling. That was the comments from club president Kevin Payne who remarked, "Eric Hassli is under contract for 2013. We'll decide where Eric Hassli plays this year. Not Eric Hassli." That is quite the comment to offer instead of the traditional denial or "no comment". It would seem to suggest that Payne is once again stamping his authority on a situation and showing that no matter what the media is reporting, he is in complete control of things at Toronto FC.
So where does that leave the club? Could we be in for another show down between the club and a player like we went through with Adrian Cann and Dwayne De Rosario when both players wanted raises? Will Hassli be able to force his way out of the club despite Payne's comments? We will probably just have to wait and see on all of that but hopefully with Payne in charge the club can find a way to avoid this turning into another messy public situation.
Fans will not have to wait long to get answers as players will be reporting for training camp this weekend and that should include Hassli. Players will not be available to the media for the first week of the camp but after that the club and Hassli will certainly be forced to answer some questions about these reports.
Until then we have to deal with the worrying fact that Ives has been startlingly accurate when it comes to reports about TFC this offseason and there is a good chance that he is also right about this one. That said, a request for a trade is just that and the club still has the right to force a player to honour his contract. In the past, TFC has allowed players to dictate what went on at the club demanding raises and forcing their way out.
A big part of the issue in the past was that players ended up talking to the media during these messy situations and that brought fans on their side and put more pressure on the club to cave to their demands. Duane Rollins offered a good take on how this situation over at Canadian Soccer News, suggesting it could allow Payne to show that things really are changing at the club and that he is in control of things. The key point that Duane makes is that when TFC picked up the option on Hassli they took back the control of things and can now decide is he stays or goes and where he plays in 2013 pointing to the fact that, "Under the CBA teams can buy out one guaranteed contract per year without a cap hit. DP players are considered the same as non-DPs for the purpose of that rule. So, TFC still has the option of walking away from Hassli - they would just need to give him some MLSE money."
I am not going to advocate that TFC just cuts ties with Hassli as that would mean they basically rented the player for half of a lost season at the cost of a first round SuperDraft pick in 2014. No matter how little you think of the draft that would be a high price to pay to a rival club when you basically got nothing in return. The issue is that he was re-signed by the club prior to Payne and Neslen coming in making him a clear part of the plan that Mariner was trying to build and, much like the former coach, that plan is no longer in place.
If he is not interested in being here in 2013 then the club might be better off using that DP slot on someone who does want to play for the club and is part of Neslen's plans, but to get nothing for Hassli would be painful. The option of trading him within MLS remains but his price tag is fairly high and would likely scare off most teams. The ones that could use a player like Hassli are the ones that would have little to give up for him or don't have the room in their budget to make such a move work. A trade would be the best option if the situation cannot be resolved but finding a partner may prove tricky.
If Hassli is not here for 2013 then the club would need to do quick work to find some help at forward. Danny Koevermans is not likely to be fit for the first half of the season and relying heavily on Justin Braun would probably be a recipe for failure. There would be a real lack of attacking options that are good enough to be starting in MLS even if TFC takes a forward in the draft.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out and if this report is even true, but it does provide Payne with another chance to show that things are different at this club. If he can keep control of the situation and end up making the best move for the club rather than allowing the player to face his move it would be a good sign that things are starting to change. Then he would just have to do something about that direct leak that seems to be heading to Ives in recent months and we would be looking at some real change.