Timbers vs. Whitecaps - The Portland Tribune

Timbers vs. Whitecaps — with two Nashes on board in Vancouver, the battle resumes Friday and continues on MLS expansion front
Midfielder Martin Nash, brother of NBA star, says big-league team would be 'huge' in B.C.

BY VICTORIA NGUYEN

With the Portland Timbers fighting to hang on to seventh place — and the last USL-1 playoff berth — Friday’s 8 p.m. road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps is crucial. And, as a backdrop, the two franchises are battling for a Major League Soccer expansion team.

Both organizations have put in bids for one of two franchises to be awarded for 2011. Some think the Whitecaps, 2-0 against the Timbers this season, could have an edge in the MLS chase: Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash will become a Whitecaps partner and has thrown his support behind the British Columbia club’s bid.

Steve Nash’s younger brother, Martin Nash, plays midfield for the Whitecaps.

“He’s a big fan of the MLS, loves soccer and wants to be part of it,” Martin Nash says of his Phoenix Suns guard/brother. “I think he’s been around the MLS because he likes it, and maybe it will help, maybe it won’t, but it won’t hurt. Anything to help the sport of soccer is a great thing.”

Vancouver's MLS stadium plans remain fuzzy, lacking a consensus among government officials and the public.

But, according to Martin Nash, support for an expansion team isn’t just coming from Vancouver-area soccer fans.

“All our friends want it, and even people who aren’t coming out to our games want it,” he says. “I think that’s a big thing. I think with the market power of the (MLS) and how big the league’s turned out to be, everyone wants to be in that league.”

The Whitecaps’ veteran sees Vancouver as a perfect fit.

“It’d be huge,” he says. “Especially Vancouver, it’s such a diverse city. I think with some players from European countries, there’d be huge crowds. The soccer community in the city is huge.”

Nash says attendance at Swangard Stadium — a 5,822-seat facility that has been sold out only three times this season — shouldn’t be a deterrent to a possible MLS franchise.

“We don’t have bigger crowds because our stadium isn’t bigger,” he says. “We wouldn’t know where (MLS attendance) would stand. If we had a bigger, better, stadium we’d probably get bigger crowds.”

The Timbers have drawn three regular-season crowds of more than 10,000 to PGE Park, which has a capacity of 19,566.

Nash says he thinks both franchises have a great chance to move up to the bigger league.

“Portland’s got great support,” he says. “I think both teams have good solid franchises in this league, and that proves to the MLS that they’re sustainable. If they don’t both get it, there’s a good chance if they stay in (the hunt) they might get one.”

The Seattle Sounders FC will become the MLS’ 15th team next season. Philadelphia will join in 2010.

While the Whitecaps are in second place (11-6-6), they aren’t overlooking the Timbers (6-8-10).

“Their record isn’t strong, but they are,” Nash says. “They typically defend well, but they just have trouble scoring goals. They’re a dangerous team. For some reason, it just hasn’t been going their way this year. We can’t take them not seriously.”

Nash credits the Timbers Army for making the teams’ past match-ups more interesting.

“Portland travels with huge supporters in tow,” he says. “It’s great to see some of them come all the way to Vancouver and be loud and proud and show up for their team. It’ll be a good match, and it’s always a tough battle, and it’s become a rivalry over the years.”