Nevermind David Beckham, this week in Toronto Steve Nash was the face of the MLS all-star event. The NBA star played in the media game, played the media's games, attended the soirees, and was a guest of Commissioner Don Garber when the game kicked off on Thursday night.
And for all his efforts, it is the Canadian soccer supporter who will be rewarded.
As the all-stars and West Ham United put on a show for the faithful at BMO Field, it was announced that the league Board of Governors approved expanding by two teams by 2011. The two teams are expected to be named at the MLS championship game in November.
Nash, speaking from New York via telephone on Friday, told the news conference he will not be a majority owner, but will put a significant amount of money toward the project. Nash will join current owner Greg Kerfoot.
An MLS franchise will cost at least $30 million.
"I haven’t invested money yet, more like human capital. It's a spectacular city," Nash told a New York Times soccer blog. "I’ve been a fan of the (Whitecaps) since I was six."
The Whitecaps have always maintained the club is ready to make the move from the United Soccer Leagues First Division to the MLS ranks. Much of the time the lofty expectations were shrugged off as delusions of grandeur, but after taking four of a possible six points from Toronto FC in the recent Nutrilite Canadian Championship the USL team proved themselves worthy of promotion.
Montreal, the eventual winner of the aforementioned Canadian Championship, is another team ready to make the jump, but without a celeb endorsement or any real attention, the grass just does not look greener at Saputo Satdium. Plus, with all the dignitaries in Toronto for a week, one has to ask: Where were all the Montreal bid-backers rubbing shoulders with the names who matter?
Now the Vancouver bid remains just that, a bid, but it makes more sense for the MLS to go there first as it kills two birds with one stone.
First off, the league gets its much-wanted Canadian club rivalry. Now a Toronto-Vancouver rivalry will take a bit of travel to nurture, but for the far-too-long barren Canadian pro soccer landscape even the suggestion of adding another MLS franchises buoyed by rabid local support and a celebrity visage is worth the drive. (And considering that the local TFC supporters have traveled the continental US to sing their songs, a quick cross-country jaunt will a breeze.) Garber has always proclaimed that Toronto is the business model for all future MLS franchises, so to the commish, Vancouver is risk-free.
Second, the MLS gets an immediate geographic rivalry as the Seattle Sounders will play their MLS soccer just 191 kilometers away in 2009. Some might argue that saturation is an issue, but unlike other professional sports, too many franchises in one area matters very little. I have lost track of how many clubs play in the greater London, Enlgand area.
For Vancouver, it is just the beginning. The next phase will be approval on Kerfoot's soccer specific waterfront stadium and bringing back to fruition the passion which was at one time synonymous with the old NASL. And with Nash behind the venture, you can bet it will get done.