The Case for Jimmy Conrad

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Jimmy Conrad made his return for the United States in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Haiti. Conrad had been left out of the previous 27 US match squads, a remarkable statistic for such a gifted player with unique leadership skills.

Conrad’s solid organization and play helped to save a result for the United States against a superior Haitian side, Saturday. With three inexperienced international defenders alongside him, Conrad showed a veteran savvy and understanding of the Haitian attack that prevented the opposition from scoring more than two goals.

Conrad is a savvy veteran. I’ve been watching him since his debut with the San Jose Clash (now Quakes) in the late 1990s. I had also read from message boards that he had been fantastic in the A-League (now USL-1) for the San Diego team.

That Clash team wasn’t very good but Conrad always had a positioning sense as a defender that I thought would be valuable on the bigger stage. Yet even after a loan stint in Poland and being part of a championship backline with San Jose, Conrad was never selected for the national team.

His move to Kansas City showed continued steady play but no international call ups until the 2005 Gold Cup. In that tournament, Conrad excelled impressing Bruce Arena so much that despite being capped for the first time at twenty eight, he was going to the World Cup a year later at twenty nine.

Conrad’s play coming cold off the bench against Italy is one of the legendary defensive performances in US history. Following the sending off of both Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope, two USMNT vets, Conrad stepped right in and played remarkably well- so well that he could have easily been credited with earning the US the lone point we won at Germany 2006.

Conrad then started and played the full ninety against Ghana in the final group game. He played well in that game as well but two breakdowns, the first a bad Claudio Reyna giveaway and the second an inexplicable pass by Carlos Bocanegra into his own area gave Ghana two goals and passage to the knock out rounds.

Conrad’s value in the air was noted in February 2007, when he scored a beautiful header in Glendale, AZ against Mexico off a corner from his former San Jose team mate Landon Donovan. Conrad also wore the captain’s armband in Bob Bradley’s first match as coach

Conrad’s engaging personality is a key reason he should have been incorporated at an earlier point in time. The former contributor to CNNSI.com and to ESPN Soccernet.com, Conrad continues to host his own show with Sean Wheelock in Kansas City and get along with just about anyone he meets. These columns and shows were must reads and must listens, as was Conrad’s recent work as the color analyst for the COMNEBOL qualifiers in Beach Soccer.

As someone who did color for my first match this past weekend (A USL-1 match between Miami FC and Vancouver) I can respect the effort it takes Conrad to do this, and write while maintaining a high level of defending on the pitch.

Conrad was the classic case of American coaches ignoring players who didn’t come through the typical youth development system or hadn’t played for the US at the youth level. Thankfully when Conrad finally got picked at 28, his performances were so memorable and filled with quality that he continues to be in the mix.

Going into a World Cup year, the USA needs veteran leadership not just on the pitch but in the locker room and on the team plane. A jokester with an engaging personality like Conrad who can also play some football (and has World Cup experience to boot) must be considered strongly by Bradley despite his age.

RED BULL HOSTS LA GALAXY TONIGHT

As readers of this site know, I’m not a big believer in analyzing specific games from the MLS Regular Season preferring to observe long term trends (and allowing bloggers who focus on MLS more than I do to break down specific games), and during international breaks  focusing on the US team. But tonight’s return of David Beckham to the Big Apple is so massive we’ll be covering every step as you have already seen on the site the past few days. Daniel Feuerstein, will be on site at Giants Stadium and will provide an update in the morning.

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