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Hassli return represents a significant gamble for Toronto FC

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By standing pat on its collection of DPs, Toronto FC’s front office has, in fact, decided to play craps.

Yes, it’s a mixed metaphor. But it’s apt.

The team confirmed Monday that it will exercise the option on striker Eric Hassli’s contract for 2013. Hassli is hard-nosed centre forward who has, in each of the last two years, scored a wonder goal that earned worldwide attention. His strike from the Amway Canadian Championship final is nominated for the Ferenc Puskas Award, which FIFA awards for the the most spectacular goal scored in 2012.

But Hassli’s career as a Whitecap and as a Red has been marked by significant stays on the sidelines due to injuries. His ankles have been problematic. While he played in 25 games this season, he started just 16, and he isn’t seen as a 90-minute player.

Add to that the fact TFC’s two other DPs will be trying to return from significant injury issues. Thirtysomething Danny Koevermans missed half of 2012 with a torn ACL. Thirtysomething DP Torsten Frings had hip surgery in 2012.

Now, if you were a mathematician playing with probabilities, you likely would not come up with a scenario where three players past 30 would all come back from injuries and play through 2013 without incidents. These are things that have to be considered by a team’s front office. As a player ages, his chances of recovering from injury — or not getting reinjured — lessens. That’s basic probability. And a successful general manager understands when is the time to gamble and when is the time to play the percentages when evaluating a player.

If there aren’t buyouts for Koevermans and Frings, they now represent high-risk salary-cap hits. And, by continuing with Hassli deal rather than renegotiating the deal or setting him free, the third DP slot also represents a significant amount of risk. The Reds have three high-cap-hit components who all represent major injury risks for 2013.

Put all three together, and you get what would be a low-percentage gamble.

And don’t expect a bailout from MLS.

We already know from TFC’s failed attempt to sign Swedish defender Olof Mellberg as what would have been essentially been a fourth DP — while Koevermans was on the DL — is frowned upon by the league and, more importantly, other general MLS general managers. There was a lot of pressure from other front offices on TFC when the possibility of the Mellberg deal came to light.

So, TFC knows that if Hassli, Frings or Koevermans spends significant time on the DL in 2013, that a push to get another DP while stashing one on the injured-reserve list will be verboten.

But, even if all three — and the percentages suggest otherwise — stay healthy for all of 2013, the fact they are being retained hinders TFC’s need to diversify and deepen its lineup. Yes, the great unknown that is allocation money acts as a mitigating factor, but the fact is TFC’s DPs constitute cap hits of US$335,000 times three. That means just over a million bucks of cap space is tied up in three players. That’s OK for a contender; but for a last-place team that needs a major rebuild, coach Paul Mariner and director of team operations Earl Cochrane need as much salary breathing room as possible. Cutting players who make $40,000 or $50,000 a year each doesn’t cut down enough wood.

And MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed in his conference call Monday that there is no plan to expand the DP rule, so unlike New York or Los Angeles, which have both been aided by the expansion of DP roster spots, TFC can’t expect a lifeline of a new fourth DP being added.

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One Comment

  1. Craig

    November 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    This is what happens when Mariner is told: “Forget building a decent club, it’s playoffs now or bust.” The lack of depth and diversity created by decisions like these is the number one reason to think TFC may be in “Year One” rebuilding mode in its 8th season in 2014.

    Reply

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