Wins, not goals, the focus for Whitecaps' Hassli

Vancouver Whitecaps Eric Hassli reacts after missing a scoring chance during the second half of...

Vancouver Whitecaps Eric Hassli reacts after missing a scoring chance during the second half of their MLS soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia April 18, 2012. (REUTERS)

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:42 PM ET

VANCOUVER - Eric Hassli stared into the distance Monday, took a deep sigh, and allowed the shoulders on his 6-foot-4 frame to slouch slightly. It was a simple sign of surrender to yet another question pinpointing his inability to score this season.

The hulking Vancouver Whitecaps striker is clearly tired of being asked week in and week out as to when his goal drought — which has reached 19 games dating back to Aug. 7, 2011 — will end.

Following practice at Burnaby Lake West, he was quite adamant that his failure to find the back of the net is not his biggest concern, even though he managed to do so 10 times in his first Major League Soccer campaign last year.

“All I can say is we won last game again,” the Frenchman firmly stated. “For me personally, yes, you want to score but I don’t care. For sure, if you lose, and you don’t score, it’s frustrating. But we won. I’m really happy.

“It’s a little long for me but I hope it’s coming soon.”

Not only has the team won two straight to sit third in the Western Conference, coach Martin Rennie is also coming to his forward’s defence, describing Hassli’s 74 minutes of playing time Saturday against the Columbus Crew as “excellent.” The first-year MLS coach, too, is seeing the progress from the team’s designated player up front.

“He was playing up there on his own and worked really hard and kept the ball for us,” Rennie said. “It was a focal point of the attack. I was really happy with it.

“The big thing for him is that he knows he’s got the support of all of us and we’re trying to help him and he’s helping us.”

That show of confidence from the coach isn’t just a face for the media. Rather, the message of winning being more important than personal results is being drilled into Hassli outside the eyes of the public.

“(Rennie) understands, don’t judge me just because I don’t score or something,” said Hassli, who turns 31 Wednesday. “He tells me almost everyday. He says I do right thing and I train good and it’s going to come. If we won one-nil, and Davide (Chiumiento) scores, or Atiba (Harris) scores, we still won. That’s all I care.”

Signs of frustration, however, have shown in recent weeks, although his recent outburst in Columbus wasn’t about his individual play. Saturday, in Vancouver’s 1-0 victory, Hassli was visibly upset on the sidelines, just moments after being subbed off by Rennie. The anger though had nothing to do with his exit from the pitch.

“The referee spoke to me, like, really bad, that’s why I was upset, really upset,” Hassli said. “I didn’t say anything … He told me ‘shut up’ so I was really upset. The coach made a good decision to put me out. I was just upset of the ref, not upset because (Rennie) put me out.”

The coach wasn’t as diplomatic Monday about the officiating, calling out their inconsistency with calls on Hassli.

“It’s ridiculous,” the Scotsman said. “He’s getting fouled all the time but because he’s big and strong, and he doesn’t just fall over, he doesn’t get a foul. Maybe he needs to just start falling down. But it’s like he’s getting hit all the time from different angles and he very rarely gets a foul. That’s frustrating.

“He was upset about the referee and I was too because the way the defenders were marking him, it was a sandwich most of the time, one in front, one behind. There were a lot of tactical fouls that were never given.”

Reputation — with Hassli’s eight yellow cards and three red cards last season — shouldn’t play a part in the calls either, added Rennie.

“It should have nothing to do with it unless FIFA has changed the rules,” he said. “It should be what happens in that game and nothing to do in the past. Eric showed no signs of ill-discipline since I’ve been around so I don't see why that's the case.".”

Even so, Hassli isn’t using the non-calls as an excuse for his offensive woes. As the forward puts it, for now, his “first goal” is to win.


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