Thomas Hasal’s first Vancouver Whitecaps start came under the most unusual circumstances, with the Homegrown Player thrust into the spotlight after Maxime Crepeau suffered a fractured left thumb and Bryan Meredith was unavailable due to his mother’s sudden death.
Despite the rushed situation, Hasal made four saves in a 2-0 win over Chicago Fire FC, helping his team book a Round of 16 spot by securing third place in Group B. He’s also caught the eye of left back Ali Adnan, who’s cautiously excited by the 21-year-old’s potential.
“He’s a smart guy. He knows what he’s doing right now,” Adnan said about Hasal on Friday. “I’m so happy for him and I’m sure he’s going to be one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, but he needs to keep working more and I think he’s going to be one of the best, for sure.”
After posting a shutout in his first MLS start, Hasal now faces his first knockout match in Sunday’s Round of 16 game against Sporting Kansas City (11 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, FOX Deportes; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
Head coach Marc Dos Santos offered words of reassurance to the youngster, especially with a backup situation still to be determined.
“It’s to enjoy it. To enjoy it,” Dos Santos said of his message to Hasal. “It’s a knockout match that is important but it doesn’t mean points in the standings. It only means qualifying or not. So, he has to relax, he has to enjoy the moment. He has to play the way he trains, give his best and he doesn’t have any pressure from me or the club in this game. He just has to do his best like he’s doing in training and just enjoy the moment. That’s what we told him.”
Aside from Hasal, Dos Santos has several tactical choices to make after finding a successful route against Chicago. It included a five-man backline that opted for a defense-first, counterattacking approach – all as the Whitecaps cope with injuries and MLS is Back Tournament absences. A recent addition is center back Jasser Khmiri, with Dos Santos noting that the newcomer’s “still a possibility” as his knee gets checked on.
Vancouver will need all the defensive help they can get against a Sporting side with a dangerous front three that’s spearheaded by Alan Pulido. The Whitecaps also lost 3-1 when hosting Peter Vermes’ group back on Feb. 29, so there’s a glimpse into how they stack up.
“I have to say Kansas City is one of the best teams in the league and we played against them and we lost this game,” Adnan said. “Now it’s a good opportunity for us to play them again and fight against them again. It’s not easy to play against them."