VANCOUVER, BC – You’d be hard-pressed to find an individual with a more unique and informed perspective on Vancouver Whitecaps FC than Steve Nash.
Nash, of course, was a high performance athlete himself – to say the least.
The retired Canadian basketball legend, who grew up in Victoria, B.C., was a two-time NBA MVP and eight-time NBA all-star, which makes him one of the greatest Canadian athletes of all time.
So he can certainly relate to the players.
Following his playing career, Nash then took over as general manager of the Canadian senior men’s basketball team and, more recently, became a player development consultant for 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors. A lifelong soccer supporter, Nash also has an ownership stake in Whitecaps FC as well as Spanish Segunda División club RCD Mallorca.
So he knows a thing or two about the business side of things as well.
Above all, however, Nash said he just feels like a “big fan.” And that's been the case for as long as he can remember.
"I was born in 1974 (same year the club was founded)," Nash said at the club's Season Launch Event on Monday evening. "I grew up a Whitecaps fan. I still have a picture, somewhere in my mom and dad's house, getting Carl Valentine's autograph. My brother won championships here with the Whitecaps. So it's been a big part of our family."
Although his busy schedule these days, which also includes his own content creation company and “trying to get [his] three kids’ grades up,” doesn’t allow him to attend as many ‘Caps games as he’d like, Nash said he watches them all online and “lives and dies with every result.”
He too was disappointed with how things went in 2016, but he’s also optimistic about what’s ahead. That’s something Nash expressed on Monday, when he met with the media at BC Place before training with the team and attending the Season Launch Event at The Vogue.
“I just love our project,” Nash told reporters. “Our fans are growing in numbers, that kind of traditional fabric that a club gets over the years, you can feel it every year. The fans in the city and the province have more of a feeling of investment. That’s fantastic to feel the growth every year from a fan standpoint.”
“I love our coaching staff, vision, and core values, and all the things we’ve been able to do from the Residency through to the first team,” he continued. “I think we’re building something, I think we have a lot of great young players and a talented young coaching staff. It’s just an exciting project to follow. After having a great year two years ago and a little bit of disappointment last year, I think we’re ready to come out of the gates with a bit of fire.”
As a fan himself, Nash said he can understand some of the frustrations regarding the club’s current Designated Player situation, but he also provided some insight into the thinking from an ownership perspective.
“Everyone wants our club to sign a world-beater, but the reality is, how many of them are available and how many of them are at the right stage of their career that you want to invest that kind of money in them?” he said. “That’s difficult. It’s really difficult. I can understand how a fan wants a big jazzy name up there on the marquee every night. At the same time, it’s not the easiest thing to find one that’s going to fit your group and make your team better.”
“Especially in the game of soccer,” he continued. “I think you see transitioning to a new team and a new league can be very difficult. What a guy has done in another league for the most part is what he’s done elsewhere. To come in here in a new environment, playing on different surfaces in different cities and climates, in a different league, is sometimes much more difficult. So I think we have to be very cautious in how we approach that.”
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told reporters on Monday that he’s still searching for a new striker, and he reiterated as much at the Season Launch Event, saying the club is "working day and night to bring someone in who can help us."
So all this is not to say the club won’t be strengthening the roster.
At the same time, Robinson said he’s “very comfortable” with his current group of players – a group that includes exciting youngsters Alphonso Davies, Kekuta Manneh, and recently-acquired Peruvian attacking midfielder/forward Yordy Reyna, who trained with the team for the first time on Monday.
And it’s that sort of young talent coming through the club that has Nash most excited.
“I can understand some of the disappointment from some corners of the fan base, but at the same time we’re building something great here,” Nash said. “Our model and vision has always been to develop players as well. If we get a DP that’s the right fit, we’ll be excited. If we don’t, I think everyone just has to continue to root for the young guys and the development and the longform vision of this club.”
“We have a lot of ability in our team, we have a lot of young, youthful athletic guys,” Nash added. “They’re coming together, they’re growing, they’re learning and I think our coaching staff is doing the same. It’s an exciting time to be a ‘Caps fan.”
He would know.