Former defender has veteran help
BY MARC WEBER
Martin Nash will play his 250th game for the Whitecaps today, most of those in central midfield, and he'll be paired with someone playing his first at that crucial position.
Pat yourself on the back if you called Coquitlam's Luca Bellisomo to emerge from the preseason as Nash's partner in the USSF D-2 opener against the NCS Minnesota Stars. Then quit your job and become a clairvoyant.
"A few months ago, I wouldn't have believed it," admitted Bellisomo, 23. "But the coach has been thinking about me in that position, and I'm lucky enough to be starting there for our first game, which is what everybody wants come the season."
In 2009, it took Bellisomo all season to catch a break. He was the 10th centreback used by coach Teitur Thordarson after a string of departures, releases, injuries and a brief, ill-fated peek at Nigerian prospect Michael Ndubuisi Onwuatuegwu.
Bellisomo went on to start all six playoff games on defence.
In 2010, the stars have aligned more quickly. When central midfielders Ethan Gage and Philippe Davies joined the residency team at the Dallas Cup two weeks ago, Bellisomo, a defender since his days at Simon Fraser University, saw more training time in the middle of the park.
And with newly signed all-star central midfielders Jonny Steele (knee) and Ricardo Sanchez (illness) on the sideline, Bellisomo impressed in a pair of starts against university sides.
"Luca is a very intelligent football player," Thordarson said. "He has good technique, good vision, and he has a way of reading the game that I like.
"His main problem is that he hasn't been physical enough, but we have spoken about it a lot and he has shown us in the last games that he has really taken that seriously."
Bellisomo said he knows he has to keep things simple and physical. If he can chip in offensively -- he headed in a free kick against his alma mater last week -- all the better. The biggest change from playing defence, he said, is that in the midfield you can't switch off, even for a second.
He couldn't have asked for a better partner to ease him into his midfield debut for the Whitecaps. Fifteen minutes into today's game, Nash will hit the 20,000-minute mark for his career here, something he wasn't aware of after Saturday's training, but had a smile about.
"It helps a lot having Nash beside you," said Bellisomo, born in Johannesburg to a South African mother and Italian father. "He's always talking to you, keeping you going, keeping you in the right shape, keeping your confidence up. Obviously, he takes the reins, so it makes your job easier."
In a way, the milestones for Nash are overdue. He would have hit both marks in last year's USL-1 final against Montreal had he not been sent off for a tackle on Roberto Brown midway through the first leg, which meant an automatic suspension for the return game. With Nash out, Montreal dominated the midfield battle and won 6-3 on aggregate.
"I think about it every once in a while, but it really is done with," Nash said of the bitter ending to last season. "It's a new season and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Adding depth behind Nash was a priority for Vancouver this offseason and Steele and Sanchez are expected to make major contributions. But Steele is still at least two weeks away, and Sanchez will start the season on the substitutes' bench.
For today's opener, it's Bellisomo's chance to prove he belongs on the field, something that took him all of 2009 to do.
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