NBA star confident Vancouver will 'have a team in the near future'
Two-time NBA most valuable player Steve Nash has officially thrown his support -- and his money -- behind the Vancouver Whitecaps' bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.
Vancouver is one of nine cities vying for two MLS expansion franchises by 2011, and preceding Nash's declaration Friday was Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi stating his club's official intention to submit a bid.
Nash, the Victoria-raised basketball star and soccer fanatic, confirmed his long-anticipated commitment via a pre-taped video message from the MLS all-star game in Toronto. He then joined the press conference via speaker phone from New York.
"I'm excited to bring the Vancouver Whitecaps to the highest level of soccer in North America," he said in the video. "We deserve this bid and we'll have a team in the near future."
Nash, whose brother Martin is a standout midfielder for the Whitecaps, admitted that his undisclosed stake in ownership along side Greg Kerfoot was contingent on Vancouver's acceptance into MLS, but said he never really thought about that.
"We have a singular vision," he said. "I've made a commitment financially and in spirit to see this become a reality.
"We're all confident and relentless in seeing this through."
Dignitaries in attendance included B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal and Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
"This is a great day for our province," said Oppal. "Entry into the MLS will confirm our standing as a big-league city and a world-class city."
MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed Thursday that his league will add franchises 17 and 18 by 2011. Seattle becomes MLS's 15th team in 2009 and has already sold 16,000 season tickets, while Philadelphia enters in 2010.
Potentially competing with Vancouver for the next round of expansion are: Montreal, Ottawa, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Portland, St. Louis and a second team in New York.
The MLS could announce their next two franchises at the MLS Cup on Nov. 23.
"We wanted to get a head start and come out of the blocks quickly," said Lenarduzzi. "We believe that MLS is the best league in North America and what we'd like to be able to do as a club is to prove that we're one of the best club sides in North America.
"We feel that we meet all the requirements to be one of the two MLS franchises awarded."
Having Nash in their corner certainly helps the Whitecaps, who have a lease to play out of the newly renovated B.C. Place starting in 2011.
Currently, the United Soccer Leagues First Division side plays out of 5,500-seat Swangard Stadium.
Lenarduzzi was also hopeful that getting an MLS franchise would reignite the push for a soccer-specific waterfront stadium, a plan that has been slowed to a crawl by red tape.
"We think [it] will further stimulate the discussions," he said. "And in the meantime, we think [B.C. Place] will be a fantastic venue to start our MLS involvement."
Garber indicated in a Wednesday all-star break address that upcoming talks with potential broadcasters and sponsors would go a long way to determining the successful bids. MLS has never questioned Vancouver's passion or ownership, and is satisfied with the new plans for B.C. Place. Having Seattle as a natural rival should also be a plus for Vancouver.
Toronto paid $10 million for its franchise when it joined MLS in 2007. Philadelphia paid $30 million and the next round of franchises could pay as much as $40 million.
© The Vancouver Province 2008