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Brother Act: WHITECAPS I The quiet Nash is as important to the 'Caps as his older sibling is to the Suns

Dan Stinson

Vancouver Sun

1,230 words

23 April 2005

Vancouver Sun


E1 / Front


Copyright © 2005 Vancouver Sun

He is the quiet, reserved Nash brother, more like a boxy Rambler sedan than a flashy Ferrari. Conservatively dressed, blond curly hair closely cropped, he could pass as a budding banker or high-school history teacher.

In the realm of sports, his game is also decidedly different. While Martin Nash patrols the midfield for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the sometimes leisurely ebb-and-flow pace of professional soccer, his brother Steve -- he of the faded jeans, T-shirts and shoulder-length locks -- is racing along electric avenue with the Phoenix Suns en route to what some observers believe will be an MVP National Basketball Association season.

But an argument can be made that the brothers are equally valuable to their teams.

When the Whitecaps kick off their season Sunday against the Toronto Lynx at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium, Martin Nash will be one of only two Whitecaps who have played for new head coach Bob Lilley. Lilley was hired by the United Soccer Leagues First Division team in November in an effort to shake up a franchise that perennially boasts many of B.C.'s best players, yet has failed to reach a league championship game in 13 seasons. Nash will be a key part of Lilley's plan.

Nash and Lilley first hooked up in Montreal in 2003, when the regular season inspired high hopes among Impact fans. The team won the A-League's Eastern Conference with a 16-6-6 record, but went on to a 2-1 aggregate-goals loss to the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the first round of post-season play.

Coming off his third stint of English League soccer -- with Macclesfield Town, then of the Third Division -- Nash was the Impact's fourth-leading scorer in '03 with four goals and six assists in 22 games.

"Our playoff loss was obviously disappointing, but what I remember most about that season was the discipline and work ethic Bob brought to the team," says Nash, a 29-year-old Victoria native who's two years younger than his famous brother Steve.

"We blew out some teams in the regular season, but our goals-against [13 shutouts in 28 games] was probably the key to our success. It was a result of Bob's insistence that every player had to work his butt off when we lost possession.

"Bob has brought that same sort of work ethic to the Whitecaps," adds Nash. "He's a demanding coach, but fair. If you do your job off the ball, you're more than halfway home. I think every member of the Montreal team became a better all-round player that season. I'm familiar with what Bob wants, so maybe that gave me a bit of a head start this year."

Lilley is the first U.S.-born head coach in the Vancouver franchise's 19-year modern-era history. The 38-year-old native of Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, is also the first local bench boss who has not played for the 86ers or the Whitecaps. He's a two-time A-League coach of the year, winning the award in his rookie season as head coach of the now-defunct Hershey Wildcats in 1997 and again in '03 with the Impact.

The Montreal side that Lilley pieced together in '03 won the A-League championship last year. Most notably, the Impact conceded a circuit-best 15 regular-season goals and only one goal in four playoff games as Lilley's defence-first philosophy blossomed under first-year Montreal head coach Nick DeSantis.

"Bob's fundamental approach is that hard work on defence results in offensive opportunities," says Nash. "It's been the emphasis in training camp, but he keeps the mood light at the right times. He makes sure you're working when you need to be. It's a fairly balanced approach."

Nash says his soccer work habits were developed during his high-school years at Victoria private school St. Michaels University, where Steve Nash enrolled in his Grade 12 year. The Nash brothers played for the SMU Blue Devils during the team's 1992 B.C. high-school AAA basketball championship season. It was the second-straight prep title for Steve Nash, who led Victoria public school Mount Douglas to the provincial AAA soccer crown in his Grade 11 year with the Rams.

"Steve was the MVP of that soccer tournament," Martin Nash recalls with a smile. "His work ethic as a soccer player was outstanding and inspired me to work harder on my game. I had a little more natural skill, but Steve succeeded through hard work. I'm convinced he could have made it as a pro if he had chosen to go the soccer route in his career."

A central midfielder through most of a pro career that started in 1995 with the 86ers -- and includes 30 caps with Canadian national teams -- Nash won A-League championships with Rochester in 2000 and '01 before concluding his English League career with Macclesfield in the spring of '03. His career totals in a Vancouver jersey are 11 goals and 16 assists in 87 games, including three goals and three assists in 25 matches for the Whitecaps last season.

Nash's most notable performance in this year's pre-season games came this past Saturday in Chilliwack, when he was slotted on the left side of midfield and consistently delivered quality crosses to strikers Carlo Corazzin and Joe Gjertsen in the Whitecaps' 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders.

But Lilley says that doesn't necessarily mean Nash will be slotted as a left-side midfielder throughout the '05 regular season.

"Martin can play anywhere in midfield," Lilley says flatly. "I used him in the middle in Montreal, but he's such a versatile player that I have no problem putting him out wide. He's a great server of the ball from the flanks. I wish I had two Martin Nashes -- one in the middle and one on the flank. It would certainly give the team an added dimension."

Lilley's words are echoed by ninth-year Whitecaps veteran Steve Kindel, a former left-sided midfielder who has played a more defensive left-fullback position since mid-season of '04.

"Marty's a highly skilled player and is one reason that we have more depth in midfield than any other position," says Kindel. "Roughly half of our players can play two or three positions, so it gives us several options. We can change players around to throw opposing teams off in terms of how they defend us."

Asked if he thinks the long Vancouver drought will be quenched this season, Nash makes no predictions.

"We'll definitely be hard working and competitive," he says. "Bob will make sure of that. But the league is stronger this year with fewer teams and more good players on those teams. I honestly don't think there's a clear-cut favourite for the championship."

Colour Photo: (Martin Nash); Colour Photo: "I wish I had two Martin Nashes -- one in the middle and one on the flank. It would certainly give the team an added dimension." - Bob Lilley, Whitecaps head coach

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