Captain Nash takes load off - The Province

Vet all the fitter for diet during 0-0 tie vs. Seattle

By Marc Weber

Martin Nash has taken a bite out of brother Steve's diet plan and the results are mouthwatering.

Nash, the Vancouver Whitecaps' 34-year-old captain, shed 15 pounds this offseason, down to 160 on his 5-foot-11 frame.

Part of it relates to the Caps going year-round with their training, but Nash gives plenty of credit to his NBA all-star brother who, at 36, is a model of consistency and longevity in professional sports.

"Steve was talking to my wife because he knew if she got into the diet, I'd be into it," Nash said with a laugh. "No sugars, other than out of fruit or natural sugars. I'm staying away from wheat -- breads and pastas, I'm not eating any of that. Just a lot of veggies, chicken and veg.

"Steve's been doing it for a while and he's extremely fit and found he had a lot more energy. I've been finding that, too."

Nash played the full 90 minutes Saturday in a 0-0 friendly draw against Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders at Swangard Stadium.

Aside from added pep, Nash says he feels quicker over four or five yards and has better endurance. He's hoping the improved fitness will translate into an injury-free season.

Last season, having played 69 straight games -- still shy of his club-best ironman mark of 77 -- Nash watched a Whitecaps home game as a spectator for the first time.

A hamstring pull forced the captain to the sideline for the final five regular-season games and he wasn't right in the playoffs, especially when it mattered most in the first-leg final against Montreal.

The bigger picture, of course, is the Whitecaps' move up to MLS -- North America's top tier -- in 2011.

"It's a little extra incentive," Nash said. "I want to keep playing. I want to play next year and the year after, and for as long as I can.

"Breaking down like that at the end of the season -- I don't want it to happen again."

There will be whispers, no doubt, that with Steve as part-owner of the MLS Whitecaps, Martin's roster spot, at least for a season, was all but assured.

It's a ridiculous notion to everyone involved. The stakes are so high for this franchise in year one. And the MLS model is such that higher-paid older players have to have an impact role, they can't just be spare parts.

From the club's perspective in 2010, their success is perhaps less reliant on Nash than any season since he returned to Vancouver in 2004.

That's not to say he won't be a major factor, but there are proven players to fill his spot, unlike last season when first-year midfielder Kenold Versailles ended up starting -- and struggling -- in the USL-1 final with Nash suspended.

Jonny Steele, 24, is a former Northern Ireland youth international who earned USL-1 MVP honours in 2008 with the Puerto Rico Islanders and was named to the all-league team again last season.

And Ricardo Sanchez, 27, comes to the Caps from the Minnesota Thunder where he tied for the USL-1 assists lead and made the all-league first team. He's a former youth international for Mexico.

Steele sat out Saturday's clash with a knee injury; Sanchez started and had a couple of promising moments of interplay with Nash.

"We are training more and more and harder and harder and getting players from different levels, so he needed to do something," head coach Teitur Thordarson said of Nash. "I think it's a great, great thing. It shows he wants to do what is necessary to stay in this.

"Martin, I look at him as quite outstanding when he is fit and healthy. He wasn't during the playoffs but it looks totally different now. He's running more, that's for sure."

Thordarson is salivating at the options he now has in the middle of the park, but he doesn't envision Nash, Steele and Sanchez sharing the field often.

That possibility does exist as both Steele and Sanchez are comfortable in a withdrawn striker role. More likely, though, one of the three will be the odd-man out to start each game.

Nash welcomes the new challenge to the every-minute, every-game role he's assumed for so long.

"It's good to have these options, we haven't had them in the past," Nash said. "Nothing's going to be given to you. It will be hard for the one who's left out from time to time but you've got to fight for it and try to keep your spot."

Older, but fitter, Nash thinks he's gained the energy needed for that battle, and future ones.
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