Welcome to our third Vancouver Whitecaps statistical snapshot from the MLS is Back tournament, our series in which we will dive into the stats of some standout performers for the ‘Caps down in Orlando. In this one, we take a look at Thomas Hasal, the ‘Caps rookie goalkeeper, who quickly became a player that teams all over MLS took notice of at MiB, as he made some noise in place of an injured Maxime Crepeau.
At a position in which the veterans usually steal the show, it was a rookie who made the most noise.
While his debut probably didn’t come about the way that he would’ve expected it to, Thomas Hasal made waves in his 3 appearances (2 starts) at MLS is Back tournament down in Orlando, as he did well to hold the fort in lieu of usual starter Maxime Crepeau, who injured his hand just over halfway through the second game.
With backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith also out for the tournament, as he was forced to leave the MLS is Back bubble before the ‘Caps played any games, due to the unfortunate and tragic sudden passing of his mother, Hasal all of a sudden went from the bottom of the depth chart to the top of it, and he shone in the light.
Despite never having had a sniff of minutes at the professional level, let alone the MLS one, Hasal looked like a veteran of many years on the pitch, quickly making an impact for the ‘Caps, giving them a much-needed spark after a slow start to the tournament.
All of a sudden, they went from tournament after-thought to feel-good story, led partly by Hasal, whose unflappable nature resonated with fans, making him someone to cheer for.
For a ‘Caps squad who was hit hard by absences before and during the tournament, making it tough for them to play the way that they wanted to tactically, the breakout play of Hasal was a big boon for them.
Thanks to the standout play from him and some other Canadian youngsters, such as Theo Bair, Ryan Raposo, Cristian Gutierrez and Derek Cornelius, it helped the ‘Caps stomach the pain of missing so many regulars, while also still giving them a chance to compete at MLS is Back.
Thomas Hasal: The turning point that Vancouver didn’t quite know that they needed
When Hasal was announced as one of the three Whitecaps goalkeepers for this MLS is Back tournament, not many batted an eye, the usual reaction for a third goalkeeper in a situation like this.
Some of those eyes may have batted a bit when it was announced that Meredith had to depart the bubble right before the opener, leaving Hasal as the backup, but given Crepeau’s durability in 2019 (he played 28 of a possible 36 games, with all 8 of his missed games coming either during his international absences or in moments of rest) you didn’t figure that he’d miss out on any action.
In a short tournament format, Crepeau was tipped to shoulder the load for the ‘Caps, with Hasal remaining on the wings if absolutely needed, which wasn’t expected to be the case.
And to be fair to Crepeau, he really shouldered the load for the ‘Caps, as he was put under siege in his first two games, facing a whopping 8.82 Expected Goals (xG) in his 168 or so minutes of action, which still leads all goalkeepers from the tournament.
So when Crepeau’s hand was stepped on by Handwalla Bwana in the second half of the ‘Caps second game, in the midst of a 3-0 loss to their Cascadian rivals, there was reason to be worried for Hasal, who was getting set to step into a side that had been very leaky defensively up until that point.
While Hasal ended up looking good in his short cameo, stopping a few shots and keeping a clean sheet for the 40 minutes or so that he was on, when it was revealed that Crepeau was done for the tournament, it felt like that with that announcement, out went the ‘Caps hopes.
With one more game remaining against the Chicago Fire, a game in which the ‘Caps would need to win by 2 goals to progress to the Round of 16 as one of the best third-place teams of the group stage, it felt like Hasal and his teammates had a tough task ahead of them.
Especially after conceding 7 times in two games, while only scoring 3 times, all of which came in the first 59 minutes of their opening match against the San Jose Earthquakes, expecting them to score 2 goals, let alone win by that margin, seemed impossible against a solid Chicago Fire side.
But for whatever reason, even though the Fire had surprised with an opening day victory over the Sounders, before firing blanks against the Earthquakes, they showed more of that Earthquakes form against the ‘Caps, as Hasal stood strong once again in the ‘Caps goal.
Thanks to the young keeper, who made 5 saves, and their defenders, who blocked 7 shots, the ‘Caps held strong defensively, as they kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory, giving them the exact margin of victory required in order to advance.
So all of a sudden, after looking all but out of the tournament, Hasal and this makeshift ‘Caps roster was heading to the knockout stages, prolonging their stay in Orlando.
A date with early tournament favourites Sporting Kansas City awaited them, as a last day LA Galaxy vs Houston Dynamo draw robbed them of a matchup with rivals Toronto FC, giving them a rematch with SKC, who they faced on opening day in MLS action this year, all the way back on February 29th.
In that game, they looked quite poor defensively, falling by a score of 3-1, leaving many to worry about what they could do against Hasal and the ‘Caps this time out, especially given Vancouver’s defensive struggles to start the tournament.
Once again, however, Hasal stood strong and kept up his form from the Chicago game, as he made 8 saves, while his fellow defenders made 7 blocks, allowing them to keep a clean sheet throughout 90 minutes.
At the other end, however, the ‘Caps failed to score, leaving the score level after 90, forcing a penalty shootout, as MLS had elected not to use extra time in order to avoid fatigue concerns.
And that’s where the ‘Caps surprise journey would come to an end. After keeping a clean sheet in over 220 minutes of MLS action, Hasal fell short in the shootout, as his teammates missed 3 of their 4 penalties, leaving him little margin for error in his attempts to save SKC’s shots.
He put up a solid effort, guessing the right way on a couple of them, even saving Daniel Salloi’s attempt, but it was not enough for Vancouver, who would bow out to their foes from Kansas City.
It also cemented Hasal’s status as a cult hero for ‘Caps fans, as his play throughout his 220 minutes of action at MLS is Back was nothing short of magical, making he and the ‘Caps one to watch in their last 2 games.
For whatever reason, with Hasal in goal, the ‘Caps defence changed, as they seemed to turn a corner once he was in the lineup, providing them with a turning point to rally around at the tournament.
With Hasal in goal, the ‘Caps tightened ship, after the Saskatoon-native had steadied it:
As a result, we can split the ‘Caps MLS is Back experience into 2 parts; before and after Hasal.
Before Hasal (BH), the ‘Caps allowed 7 goals in roughly 150 minutes of play, with all of the goals coming in a 115 or so minute patch between the time that Andy Rios scored the ‘Quakes first goal in game #1 at the 45th-minute mark, and concluding when Raul Ruidiaz scored the Sounders third goal in the 51st-minute mark in game #2.
After Hasal (AH), the ‘Caps didn’t concede for the rest of the tournament, as they kept their shop tidy for the 220+ minutes that the young keeper would play from that point on, much to the surprise of those who saw them leak goals in the first two outings.
While the insertion of Derek Cornelius into the lineup certainly also played a role, there’s no doubt that the ‘Caps stepped up their defensive game AH, and that’s backed up by the stats.
The ‘Caps faced a total of 12.65 xG over the course of 4 games at MLS is Back, but interestingly enough, Crepeau faced a whopping 69% of that xG, despite only playing 40% of the minutes for Vancouver, as the ‘Caps struggled to give him support in goal.
Once Hasal was in, he faced 31% of that xG, in 60% of the ‘Caps minutes, as Vancouver turned around their defensive game once he was in goal.
There’s no doubt that Hasal steadied the ship for Vancouver, as he set the tone immediately against the Sounders with a five-alarm save at the hands of Raul Ruidiaz, one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS, but the ‘Caps also helped tighten it, making for a good partnership.
That’s not to say he did nothing, however, far from it actually. He still saved an astonishing 3.71 goals, at least when looking at his G-xG, which shows us that he helped the ‘Caps save nearly 4 goals relative to what they should’ve conceded given the quality of the chances that they gave up.
As a result, he’s got an absurd adjusted save percentage of 104%, giving us an idea of how much of a brick wall he truly was for Vancouver. Considering the best goalkeepers in 2019 had an adjusted save percentage of between 73 and 85%, that Hasal kept such a high figure is quite impressive.
Certainly, the small sample size is an obvious aiding factor, as it would be hard for him to keep anything close to that over a full season, but at the very least, it gives us the taste of a good partnership between Hasal and his defensive line.
Yes, the ‘Caps closed up shop with him in goal, as they tried their best to protect him in his first MLS games, but he also fit well into their system, as seen not only by his stats but his commanding nature on the pitch, with his assertive leadership making him look like a veteran of many years.
The beautiful thing about adjusted save percentage, as well, is that it gives you an idea of who fits in well with their respective squads.
Last year, GKs such as Steve Clark, David Bigham and Crepeau all put up good-adjusted save percentage numbers by putting up absurd advanced stats behind less than stellar defences, while GKs like Tyler Miller or Vito Mannone put solid good stats by saving what they needed to behind good defences, so for someone like Hasal to put up good numbers, albeit in a small sample size, is positive.
Considering that adjusted save percentage puts goalkeepers who carry poor defences in the same realm as goalkeepers who coast behind good ones, it gives a chance to see who is not getting enough love, and who is getting propped up by those around him.
In the case of Hasal, from what we’ve seen so far, it’s been a lot of both Column A and B, as he was good behind a solid defence, with the former helping contribute to the latter, and vice versa.
While his body of work from MLS is Back isn’t enough for one to say that he deserves to be Marc Dos Santos’s #1 goalkeeper right now, but it’s also enough for one to start having an interesting conversation.
There’s no doubt that after looking superhuman for the ‘Caps last year, Crepeau’s looked a little more mortal this year, at least from what we’ve seen so far.
That’s not a slight on him, as facing the high load of xG that he’s faced so far this year (4th in all of MLS in Regular Season, MLS is Back Group Stage and Knockout play with 10.45 in only 3 and 3 quarters of match time) isn’t easy on him, but at the same time, there are some benefits to having Hasal push him as an understudy.
Last year, when putting up his great numbers for the ‘Caps, Crepeau was pushed by the fact that Vancouver had a really good backup in Zac MacMath, whose numbers suggested that he was more than capable to be a good starter, had Crepeau not been standing on his head as he was.
That’s why the ‘Caps smartly traded MacMath to Real Salt Lake, giving the American a chance to be a starter there, with MLS legend Nick Rimando’s retirement paving the way for his acquisition.
But that meant Crepeau had lost his competitor for the number #1 spot, as going out and acquiring Meredith to replace MacMath, giving the ‘Caps a backup with only 13 MLS appearances, 12 of which came back in 2012, more than suggested that Crepeau is their guy.
And after the season that he had, it was the right decision to make, but seeing the play of Hasal, along with Crepeau’s slight return back to earth, it does make you wonder.
Might it be best for Hasal to push Crepeau as an understudy, giving him the competition that he had last year from MacMath?
Considering how much the push that Crepeau made to beat MacMath out as a day 1 starter helped him over the course of the season, having Hasal to beat out when he returns from injury may be a good way to get him back in form, while keeping Hasal on his toes and rewarding him for a good tournament.
Hasal doesn’t have to be the starter for the ‘Caps right now, but clearly he can more than play at this level, so having him push for minutes will A) help his development but also B) help Crepeau, making it a win-win for all parties.
You can never have too much goalkeeper depth, and with the fixture congestion that you may typically face due to cups, regular season play and more, having a pairing of a star goalkeeper in his prime and a future prospect who’s ready for action isn’t the worst problem to have.
At the very least, with his play at MLS is Back, Hasal’s opened up the discussion.
Which considering how depleted the ‘Caps roster was, is exactly what you’d hoped to see from any youngsters who got minutes, giving them a prime opportunity to audition in a competitive environment.
As we’ll see later in this series, he’s not the only young Canadian to do just that, and for that, we tip our hat.
Hopefully, for Hasal, it’s just the start, as he continues to write his story, whenever that may end up being next, with Crepeau unlikely to be ready when the MLS restarts later this month, giving Hasal more time to shine.
Cover Photo via: Jared Martinez and Devin L’Amoreaux/MLS