Steve Nash believes the future of North American soccer is more than watching Europeans and South Americans clash in the World Cup. The legendary point guard, who grew up the son and brother of Canadian pros, is so confident that Major League Soccer will grow that he actually bought a team. The Vancouver Whitecaps finished 13th last season despite strong play from the Brazilian striker Camilo, who Nash roots on from the road or the owner’s box as his schedule permits. Nash says it’s not the crowds that watched Team USA cheat the game of death that give him hope, but the small signs that the world’s most popular sport is entering the American mainstream.
“Sure, there are inevitable plateaus, but I just see tremendous growth potential,” Nash told Maxim. “There are soccer scores on the ticker now, kids are engaging in youth programs like never before, and MLS is growing.”
Next year the MLS will welcome the Orlando City Soccer Club and – perhaps more importantly – New York City Football Club, which has already signed former Spanish national David Villa. Nash, who traveled all the way from his native Canada to America to play professional ball, says that ability to attract stars will help the league grow aggressively.
“There are a lot of European players that welcome the opportunities that the US provides,” says Nash. What exactly is that opportunity? To compete for the love of the MLS’s increasing contingent of die-hard fans for massive endorsement contracts, and on television in front of millions. Not long ago – back when Donovan played for Everton – the grass seemed decidedly greener on the other side of the Atlantic, but a lot has changed. “When I think of where soccer was in North America 10 years ago, that says a lot,” says Nash.
And Nash likes that Americans pick their stars differently. He traces Clint Dempsey’s popularity to his “work ethic” rather than his outstanding on-ball talent. That respect for stubbornness appeals to Nash, who famously exhausted opponents during his days on the Suns, and makes it easier to grow talent in the backyard. Nash, whose foundation works to keep young kids active, believes in the importance of games and that soccer can become a playground staple. He’s quick to point out that not all games need to be competitive, but he’s also keenly aware that competitors rise out of pick-up games.
America’s next great soccer stars are probably still fooling around with their buddies, but if they work hard enough they might end up working for Steve Nash.
Photos by Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports