The Reds confirmed the signing of the versatile Liechtenstein international Nicolas Hasler on Thursday afternoon. The 26-year-old is expected to be deployed as a right wing-back, where Toronto are without their starter in Steven Beitashour and do not have a clear alternative ready to step in.
“Nicolas is an experienced and valued member of his national team playing in Euro and World Cup qualifiers,” general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said. “In addition to his club and international experience, Nicolas is a versatile player with valuable experience at right-back.”
Toronto appear hopeful that Beitashour will play again this season after undergoing surgery on a damaged pancreas, but he will be absent for at least a few weeks. His replacement thus far, Oyvind Alseth, has done reasonably well in 164 minutes of action and this signing is certainly no indictment on him.
This is just not the year for the Reds to hang their hat on a rookie out of the third round of the draft.
Toronto are peaking. They are right in the middle of their window for an MLS Cup. There are not many ways left in which they could realistically get better without making fundamental changes to the core of the team.
It is inconceivable, then, that they would not address the only obvious deficiency they had left and risk a year of great promise coming undone by a problem they had the means to solve.
It also seems safe to assume, given the speed with which the deal has been completed, that Hasler was on Toronto’s radar before Beitashour was injured. He is an interesting choice given he does not seem to be a natural wing-back, but a central midfielder who has started to play there over the past year or so.
He is not the first player, though, that Toronto have projected as a fit for a position that may not be entirely what he is used to. There are not many natural wing-backs out there, after all, given most teams’ preference for a four-man defence.
Hasler is coming off a difficult year at club level; FC Vaduz finished bottom in the 10-team Swiss Super League and will play in the second tier next season. It was likely his decision to leave given that he was Liechtenstein’s footballer of the year in 2015 and made 31 league appearances in 2016-17.
He has not played since a couple of internationals in early June, and may need some time to return to full fitness. The success and quick adjustments of Jerome Thiesson and Scott Sutter - both full-backs who swapped Switzerland for MLS in the winter - bodes well, though it should be noted they had been playing for clubs higher up the league table than Vaduz.
We will find out if Hasler can replicate their success soon enough. Just as they did before the start of the season, though, Toronto have identified a shortcoming and addressed it with a swiftness that continues to suggest their front-office machine is a well-oiled one.