By Geoffrey C. Arnold, The Oregonian
Martin Nash followed his father's footsteps into professional soccer rather than pursuing basketball like his brother Steve.The Nash brothers will perform in Portland tonight, but they'll play in front of separate audiences.
Martin Nash will play for the Vancouver Whitecaps against the Portland Timbers in a soccer match at PGE Park while his better-known brother, Steve, will lead the Phoenix Suns against the Trail Blazers in Game 6 of their first-round NBA playoff series at the Rose Garden.
"It's kind of unusual," Martin Nash, a starting midfielder, said after the Whitecaps practiced at Delta Park Wednesday morning. "I don't think we've ever played a (professional) game on the same day" in the same city.
Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers
What: USSF D-2 Pro League game
Where: PGE Park
When: 7 p.m., tonight
Radio: 750 KXL-AM
Records: Vancouver (2-0-1, 7 points), Portland (2-0-1, 7 points)
Notes: The Timbers defeated the Whitecaps 2-0 in an exhibition game March 26. .¤.¤. Forward Mandjou Keita arrived in Portland Wednesday after playing in India during the off-season. Keita, who led the Timbers in goals scored last season, isn’t expected to play tonight.
Steve, an avid soccer fan and co-owner of the Whitecaps, said he would be watching Martin play if not for Game 6.
"I would love to be there and watch him play," Nash said last week.
Martin Nash said he and Steve had plans to have dinner together Wednesday night after the Suns arrived from Phoenix.
"We don't get to see each other often. We're playing in different cities and we're quite a ways away from each other," Martin said. "We're both quite busy in the opposite times of the year."
Martin, 34, said he and his older brother – Steve is 36 –both played basketball and soccer while growing up in Victoria, British Columbia. Martin said he and Steve played different positions in soccer – Martin played forward and Steve was a midfielder. Their father, John, played professional soccer in England.
"I was a good goal-scorer and he was a good playmaker," Martin said. "Now I've become a playmaker in soccer, kind of like what he does in basketball."
The two brothers played the same position in basketball, point guard. But Martin's game was different than Steve' s on the court.
"I was a better shooter and scorer than he was at the time," Martin said. "He was a better passer back then. But he's a damn good shooter now and a lot better all-around player."
Steve went on to play college basketball at Santa Clara and Martin said he was recruited by a "couple of schools " to play basketball, but received an invitation to try out for the Canadian U-20 national soccer team. He made the team and left basketball behind.
"I had the opportunity and I took it," the 5-foot-11 Martin said. "It was probably a good thing, I'm a bit short for basketball."
Martin is the lesser known of the Nash brothers, but he has carved out a nice career for himself in professional soccer. He has played with the Whitecaps for 10 seasons, including the last seven seasons and he was named the team' s captain at the start of the 2009 season.
Basketball fans may not know much about Martin, but the Timbers and their fans are well acquainted with Nash. Nash scored a crucial goal on a free kick against the Timbers during the second leg of the playoff semifinal series last season, helping the Whitecaps earn a 5-4 aggregate-goal victory to eliminate the Timbers and move on to the championship series.
"Martin Nash has been a great player for many years, and he just keeps going," Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said. "He looks fitter this year than he did last year. He has taken great care of himself."
Tonight's game between the Timbers and Whitecaps is a contest between the two first-place clubs in their respective conferences. The game also renews a long-time regional rivalry that will grow when the two franchises join Major League Soccer next year.
"Vancouver ended our season last year after our phenomenal run," Wilkinson said. "The players know what' s at stake and there has to be a certain type of mentality when we play Vancouver."
Martin Nash is hoping he will be a part of that rivalry in 2011.
"I still have to make the team. They haven't picked anyone for it yet," Nash said. "I think it's a good opportunity to play with big crowds."
The two brothers will be the only members of the Nash family getting together in Portland. Martin said John Nash is currently in Panama while their mom is traveling with their sister Joann. Martin and Steve's schedules prevent the family from seeing each other often, but a lucky quirk in the schedule enabled the Nashes to meet in February.
"We had some preseason games in Phoenix this year," Martin said. "Our family all got together in Phoenix, which was nice."
-- Geoffrey C. Arnold