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Steve Nash brings player's perspective to MLS ownership

The Canadian Press

3/19/2009 5:13:46 PM

VANCOUVER - The suggestion brought a chuckle from Steve Nash.

Now that he's a part owner of Vancouver's new Major League Soccer franchise, does the two-time NBA most valuable player have any interest in pulling on a jersey and playing for the team when it makes its debut in 2011?

"If I'm putting on a Whitecaps uniform in two years I'll be disappointed in the roster we have put together," Nash said Thursday from Phoenix. "Obviously I've had  some dreams about it, but not really any thought.

"That ship might have sailed."

Nash, who played soccer at an elite level as a youngster, is part of the group that spent US$35 million so Vancouver could be awarded MLS's second Canadian franchise Wednesday. Current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot heads the ownership team which also includes San Francisco Giants co-owner Jeff Mallett and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Luczo.

A news conference has been scheduled for Friday in Portland where MLS commissioner Don Garber is expected to announce that city will also be awarded a franchise for 2011.

Toronto FC became the first Canadian MLS team in 2007.

Nash, a point guard with the Phoenix Suns, said his new role as owner is exciting and fun, but he's content to let Kerfoot and the local management team make most of the decisions.

"I don't think I will be very hands on," he said. "I'm here as a resource. I'm here to get put to work if need be.

"I hope to make an impact and influence a successful franchise anyway I can. Greg's going to put people in place who are much more qualified. Maybe in the long term I will be more involved. I'm just happy to provide whatever I can to help grow the game and the franchise in Vancouver."

Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps president, said Nash may be underselling what he can contribute to the team.

"He could probably do my job," said Lenarduzzi. "He knows the game. He's a student of the game.

"When he talks about the game, he's talking about the subtleties that quite often go beyond the average person that really wouldn't understand the intricacies of the game."

Nash has always had a passion for soccer. He excelled during his high school years and was asked to play on the national under-16 team but had already chosen to pursue basketball.

Nash grew up a Whitecaps fan in Victoria and remembers standing in line to get a Carl Valentine autograph.

"It's one of those things I never thought I'd do growing up," he said. "To be a part of a team, watching it grow and develop young players and fight for a championship every year, it's exciting and I think will be pretty fun for all sports fans."

In the past, Nash considered investing in Tottenham Hotspur, the North London club that plays in the English Premier League. Both his father and grandfather are Spurs supporters.

"We talked a little bit," said Nash. "There was no agreement or anything came of it. I'm still just a massive fan from afar."

Many people who own sports franchises are businessmen and fans first. Being an athlete allows Nash to bring a different perspective to the owner's box.

"If I can offer that insight, and be the devil's advocate at times to try and improve whatever it may be from a player's perspective, great," he said. "The experience of being involved in sports has taught me things that translate to everything you do.

"Just knowing what it takes to build a team, what it takes to be a winner. Those are the characteristics I think you can't lose sight of. They have to be the backbone of every decision you make."

Lenarduzzi said Nash's status as a globally recognized athlete will help should the team ever decide to sign a high-profile soccer player.

"He has a relationship with (Barcelona striker) Thierry Henry," said Lenarduzzi. "I'm sure having an owner that is a well-known international basketball player making the connecting isn't going to hurt us."

Lenarduzzi said the addition of Portland to the MLS would be great news for Vancouver. Seattle Sounders FC begins play in MLS this season.

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver all played in the old North American Soccer League.

"If Portland is confirmed tomorrow, that is good for all three of us," said Lenarduzzi. "It will reignite those memories of the 1970s and 1980s when we had great battles against each other and the hometown fans would travel to the opposition venues in huge numbers."