TORONTO – Martin Nash is well-known and quite beloved in his native Vancouver.
The bruising midfielder, brother of NBA icon Steve Nash, was a mainstay of many B.C.-area soccer clubs, including the Vancouver 86ers and the pre-MLS Vancouver Whitecaps. But, as was the case throughout his playing career, the call of soccer has taken him across the country once again, as Nash now joins Tommy Wheeldon Jr. in Calgary at Canadian Premier League club Cavalry FC.
Nash – a regular in the Canadian men’s national team of the late 1990s and 2000s – was announced as assistant coach and technical director of the club on Tuesday, confirming an appointment he was loosely promised earlier in the year when he joined the Calgary Foothills in the PDL.
Now, he’s looking to help grow the game in Alberta.
“As an ex-Canadian professional player, it’s great to be involved in the CPL, because there has not been a clear path for players to make it to the pro level and a lot of us had to slog it out in different ways and leave the country,” Nash told CanPL.ca ahead of the league’s #GotGame Open Trials, which have kicked off in Halifax this week.
“With the CPL coming, I think it brings in a level and a true path for players to get into from younger ages, who have the ambition to go pro and really see what they have while learning their trade. It’s brilliant for the game, because when I was younger and coming through, there was only two professional teams at the time – one in Montreal and one in Vancouver. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the players. If they wanted to make it, they had to get on a plane and fly overseas.”
Indeed, for Nash, pursuing professional soccer meant leaving Canada and finding a spot in England, first with Stockport County, and later, with Chester City and Macclesfield Town. But Nash returned home to Canada in-between each of his stints abroad, finding comfort in home before trying to make it, once more, in Europe.
Over the years, Nash noticed a tremendous shift in the culture of the sport in Canada, especially at the international level.
“We used to play in Vancouver, when I first got into the national team, in front of eight, nine thousand (fans), and now they go into Vancouver and they’re playing in front of 40,000,” Nash said. “So that’s the mark, and it’s amazing to see how the game’s grown, along with the acceptance among fans and growth of supporters groups. It’s taken time. It’s not happened overnight, but you’ve got to built. That’s the challenge for the CPL, the building.
“Growing the game will be a challenge … and a great adventure.”
Nash’s role in that adventure is twofold: He explained that his responsibilities at Cavalry FC should fall in line with the usual list of tasks an assistant coach would have, whether it’s setting up and overseeing training sessions, setting team tone and culture and brainstorming tactical strategy. But, the challenge of growing a league means Nash will also be involved with player recruitment and talent identification as the club builds its first roster for the inaugural CPL season, kicking off in April of 2019.
With so much first-year work on the table, it’s easy to get lost in the fray. Luckily, Nash said, the club is led by a “very organized” head coach in Wheeldon Jr.
“Tommy’s a very good head coach,” Nash said. “He lets everyone know exactly what their job and their role is, on and off the field. He holds players and himself and his staff accountable, which is what you need.”
The group has already had a first-hand look at some of the talent in Calgary with the Foothills, and Nash offered that a few of those players would likely make the jump to the CPL. And with Open Trials coming to Calgary, Nash said he and the Cavalry FC coaching staff are intrigued by the prospect of seeing players who “don’t usually get seen or get the chance.”
“First and foremost, we’re looking at the person and the player, not just the player,” Nash said. “We want to get the right people involved, with the right culture in the locker room and around the club. It’s not just about getting a player in, a mercenary; we want players who want to be here, who want to grow, and have the right attitude to help the club grow, too.”
The CPL’s #GotGame trials open Sept. 20 in Halifax before stops in Montreal (Sept. 27-28), Hamilton (Oct. 1-2), Toronto (Oct. 11-12), Winnipeg (Oct. 18-19), Calgary (Oct. 25-26) and Vancouver Island (Nov. 5-6). Think you’ve #GotGame? Register at CanPL.ca/GotGame.