TORONTO – Striker Eric Hassli and Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner have formed an instant bond.
Their mutual admiration was obvious when they embraced after Hassli was substituted following an 80-minute home debut on Wednesday, after he had a goal and assist to give the Reds a 2-1 lead over the Portland Timbers.
WATCH: Hassli impresses in home debut for TFC
And though the festive mood was quieted by a Portland equalizer two minutes later, the result did not dampen Hassli’s enthusiasm for the team he joined on July 20 in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I feel so great on this team because we have great young players and Torsten [Frings] is the best teacher, so it’s a pleasure to me,” Hassli said. “The coach gave me a lot of confidence. I need my freedom, he gives me a lot of freedom but I also have to do my job for the team first.”
That bond with Mariner was formed well before Wednesday game, though. In fact, it came immediately after the trade during a phone call between the player and his new coach.
“The day I got traded, I was not scared, but it’s always difficult to be traded because in Europe you’re not used to being traded like that and he called me two or three hours later,” Hassli said. “And just to speak with him I felt so good and I really wanted to start to work with him.”
Mariner was delighted to obtain Hassli particularly because striker Danny Koevermans suffered a season-ending knee injury on July 14 at New England. There were big shoes to fill.
“You can see what Eric Hassli brings to the table,” Mariner said. “He’s such an immense presence on the field. Eric’s hold-up play is sensational.”
With Ryan Johnson on international duty with Jamaica, Hassli worked up front with rookie Luis Silva, who also scored Wednesday.
“Eric is such a strong guy, he holds people off, he keeps the team playing,” Mariner said, “and if we can get a rapport going with Ryan Johnson and Eric or Luis and Eric or combinations of those people then you start to get something going. Then you can start to read that when the ball goes in to Eric, you know it’s going to stick so you can make runs and it can make an enormous difference in the way you set up and the way that you play.”
Hassli said Mariner, who took over on June 7 from Aron Winter, is popular with all the players.
“He’s so passionate,” Hassli enthused. “He’s crazy about soccer, he’s crazy about his players. That makes me happy. You can ask every player and everybody loves him, he loves his job. But you have to work not 100 percent but 200 percent. It’s easy when a coach like that asks you to do something you just want to make him happy.”