This story was originally published on May 13, and updated following the conclusion of the 'Caps MLS is Back Tournament run on July 26.
Downtown is a ghost town and Vancouver is on lockdown.
It is the second week of March and the bustling streets are quieter than a Saskatchewan prairie field.
Go home and stay home, we were told. Thomas Hasal stuffed his bag with everything he needed and threw it in his trunk.
He headed home.
n. a place of origin
Home, for Hasal, is hard to pinpoint.
Hasal is the first member of his family to be born in Canada – in Cambridge, Ontario, as the Hasals established residence in five cities and three provinces while his parents tracked the best opportunities to provide for their two boys.
But their history originates from the Czech Republic, where Peter and Simona Hasal grew up.
The Hasals, who until now speak Czech and bake traditional buchty and koláče at home, would visit over the years, bringing the children to form a bond with their motherland, their heritage, and their family.
It was in one of these visits to the Czech Republic that Hasal fell in love with the game of soccer. His late grandfather, František, a former goalkeeper himself, introduced the sport to five-year old Thomas, and would continue to teach him into his teens.
“He would always go to the park with me. He was the one who got me really into the game,” says Hasal. “And he would always have soccer on, always be watching it. Every time I go back there, he would get me to train with certain clubs.”
n. the social unit formed by a family living together
As first-generation immigrants from the Czech Republic, Peter and Simona Hasal had to reinvent themselves and follow opportunities around Canada to provide for each another and their children.
Often, one had to sacrifice so the other could establish a career, and the values of selflessness and teamwork were not lost on Thomas.
“My dad was working as an engineer, and he had a job in Oakville. And then we moved to Ottawa, and my dad would still do the four-hour commute back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto to work on weekdays. And then, the company got bought out and they all lost their jobs.”
Simona travelled a long road to becoming a pediatric neurologist today, and her son witnessed firsthand the work that is put into one’s craft, lessons he would later apply to soccer.
“She worked a lot when I was growing up. She did her medical school in Czech Republic but went back to do her residency here in Canada. She got a job in Calgary for one year so me moved there, and then she transferred to Edmonton. After she finished her residency in Edmonton, she finally got a job in Saskatoon. And there is where we have made our home now.”
When Thomas had the opportunity to honour someone at the MLS is Back Tournament, he chose to sport his mother's name on the back of his jersey in the match versus San Jose Earthquakes, as a tribute for her work on the frontline during the pandemic.
n. a place where something flourishes.
It was in Saskatoon that Thomas would come into his own as a soccer player.
He joined the Whitecaps FC Saskatchewan Academy Centre in 2013 and developed under former regional head coach Bryce Chapman.
It wasn’t very long that he stood out in the province, playing in the Saskatoon league for three years, while representing for Team Saskatchewan in 2014 and 2015.
Hasal would visit Vancouver to vie for a spot in the VWFC BMO Academy System but it was not until the third attempt that he earned an invite.
“At first, we still needed to see if he physically was still going to develop. And he just needed to continue to grow his game,” recalls VWFC Academy head goalkeeper coach Raegyn Hall. “To be billeted in this program, you have to be special, you have to jump out. When Thomas came back in 2016, he grabbed it and ran with it.”
“It was disappointing at first, but I got a lot of good feedback from the coaches. And I wanted to learn from the experience,” says Hasal. “I just used that to get better and see what other opportunities I could get for when I went back.”
v. to proceed or direct attention toward an objective
In Vancouver, Hasal climbed up the ranks beginning with the U-18 Academy squad in 2016, then with the U-19s the following year. In 2018, he led the U-19 team to the Academy Championship semifinals before playing with the club's Development Squad.
“He is super driven, super focused. He does everything you ask him to do,” raves Hall. “Really strong mentality, and has a good technical foundation. He is going to do absolutely everything to do to be successful.”
Hasal’s development has also translated onto the international level, having received call-ups to the Canada U-18, U-20, and U-23 teams.
“He started at the Concacaf U-20 Championship in Costa Rica as an underaged goalkeeper and the pressure didn’t get to him,” says Hall. “Every time that we see him perform like when we went with the Development Squad to England and he’s put under pressure, more often than not, he is able to shine.”
Having signed an MLS contract in 2019, Hasal is now homing in on his next step as a professional.
“At this stage, my goal is getting first-team minutes so my focus is coming to training everyday and working hard to improve.”
He got his chance at the MLS is Back Tournament and he felt right at home in the spotlight.
With starter Maxime Crepeau injured and veteran keeper Bryan Meredith away, Hasal stepped in right when the pressure was thickest.
He came off the bench on July 15 and stopped the bleeding against rival Seattle Sounders FC.
In the next match, he made his first MLS start against Chicago Fire FC, when a clean sheet was almost a necessity to advance.
Then in the Round of 16, he put in a 90-minute shutout performance against Sporting KC, owners of the best record in the Western Conference who entered the match with the second-most prolific offence in MLS.
That's 212 shutout minutes to start his MLS career. And counting.
When he took to the net in the penalty shootout against Sporting KC, there was a hint of a smile on Hasal's face.
He looked right at home in Orlando.
A long way from Saskatoon, where his game first developed, and with his family who taught him everything.
Thomas Hasal is home, no matter how we choose to define it.