Jimmy Conrad Interview: Exclusive Chat With MLS Legend
Q: Despite having to retire ‘early’ you were still able to play up until the age of 34, what do you consider your career highlights?
A: It’s hard to deviate from the obvious choices of playing in the 2006 World Cup, scoring my one and only goal for the National Team against our bitter rival, Mexico, in 2007, and captaining the U.S. on five different occasions but I’ll get a bit more personal, and potentially cheesy, by saying that one my career highlights was when Brian McBride knew who I was near the end of my rookie year in MLS in 1999. We were doing the “team exchanging handshakes” ritual before kick-off and he said, “Hey, Jimmy,” and I thought, “Brian McBride knows my name!” It was definitely one of my “I’ve arrived” moments.
Q: When you joined the Flash were you worried that you might not make it to MLS? Were there ever any instances where you considered trying a different career path?
A: I was less worried about not making it than I was about not getting the opportunity to prove that I could play at that level. Based on the amount of work I put into my game when no one was watching, I would’ve been incredibly disappointed if I hadn’t got the chance to see what it was all about. With regard to other career paths, of course I had my eye on other things! I got $800 a month for playing with the Flash in the then A-League, which definitely forced my teammates and I to reflect on what we were doing with our lives on a daily basis.
Q: That’s something I’ve wondered, with the money of MLS often bemoaned, do you think the league has lost potential quality players because of it’s lack of financial benefit?
A: Absolutely. How could it not? I earned $24,000 my first year in San Jose during the Dot Com Boom and I had $300 to my name at the end of the year, which, naturally, I used to go to Vegas with my friends. I ended up winning $1500 playing craps for the first time so that was a nice way to finish up my first year in MLS but, to answer your question directly, I think professional sports is the dream of many kids of our country for a better life and, unfortunately for the sport, Major League Soccer isn’t the answer for them…yet. But It will be a legitimate option in the near future.
Q: You did eventually begin in MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes. What was it like the first day you went out to train with those guys? Did any of your preconceptions come true?
A: Fortunately for myself and Joe Cannon, we had trained with the majority of the team for two weeks at the end of the 1998 season for a friendly against Toluca so we didn’t feel completely like the new guys but we weren’t too far off. As for any of my preconceptions coming true, well, I always assumed that I would become much better looking once I signed a professional contract and look at me. I think it’s clear what the answer is.
Q: Did any guys treat you differently because of where you’d came from? Also who was your best friend on the team?
A: As long as you could play and had a good attitude and kept your mouth shut, then it was easy to earn the respect of the older guys. Also, my best friends on the team my rookie year were fellow rookies, Richard Mulrooney and Joe Cannon. We leaned on each other during tough times then and we still do that now. They are both awesome guys.
Q: When you joined San Jose they were ‘The Clash’ now they are ‘The Earthquakes’. Do you think that readily changing of names like that helps or hinders the league?
A: The Earthquakes had history in the San Jose area, which dated back to their NASL days so I don’t think that name change came as much of a shock. However, changing a name out of thin air like my former team, the Kansas City Wizards, did this year with their name change to “Sporting Kansas City” has fans and players alike rolling their eyes but, in time, everyone will get used it.
Q: Arguably the pinnacle of your time in San Jose saw you win the MLS Cup, in the context of MLS Cup winners before and after, where do you think that side measures up?
A: We had Dwayne DeRosario coming off the bench! Enough said.
Q: You also had a brief stint in Poland, how did that come about?
A: One of my teammates on the Earthquakes, Wojtek Krakowiak, had set up a loan situation with the team, Lech Poznan, in Poland and the coach asked if we had any more players who would be interested. I raised my hand and I’m happy that I did. I ended up playing in 15 games over there and learned a lot about myself and the player I wanted to become.
Q: And how is your Polish?
A: The only word I know how to say is the F-word, which I’m sure makes my mom incredibly proud.
Q: Was there one key thing you felt you learned in Europe?
A: The one key thing I learned in my brief stint over there was how important every game was to the people of the city. If we played at home and won, we were encouraged to go out because all of the food, drinks, etc., were taken care of. However, if we played at home and lost, we were encouraged to stay in the locker room until two hours after the game had ended and then head straight home without going out afterwards because fans would want to fight us if we looked like we were having a good time after losing a game. In short, it was pretty intense and something that doesn’t exist over here in any of our professional sports.
Q: It was rumored around 2006 that you may be heading back to Europe, was that ever close? Do you wish maybe you had gone back there or not?
A: I had a chance to go to a number of teams after the World Cup but based on the general laziness of my agent at that time, who will remain nameless, we weren’t proactive and that caused a lot of things to fall through. Sadly, during the January 2007 transfer window, I had my transfer fee agreed upon between Hannover in the Bundesliga where Steve Cherundolo plays and MLS and my physical was all lined up to make it official but they decided at the last minute to go after a forward from Rangers so I was the odd man out. I was bummed for a little while but, in hindsight, I’m glad I stayed my whole career in MLS because I took a lot of pride in helping the league grow regardless of how incrementally small my impact has really had.
Q: As someone who was selected for the best XI four times, what do you make of those who’ve criticized this years All Star selections? Is there anyone you think should have made it?
A: It would be hypocritical of me to throw out names because there was definitely a year or two when I should have not made the All-Star team and did. Of course, on the flip side, there were definitely years where I should’ve made the team and didn’t so, I don’t know, I think it all evens itself out.
Q: 2004 saw Kansas CIty named Western Conference championships. Was that the best Kansas side you played in? Do you think you should have won it that year?
A: 2004 was a special year for our club but not winning the championship after going up 1-0 in the final will always be one of my biggest regrets. We shot ourselves in the foot at the worst possible time in the biggest game of the year and we had to settle for being second best.
Q: In 2005, you actually were named the league’s best defender, where does that rank for you in terms of career achievements?
A: The word, “actually,” in your question makes it seem like you were surprised I won but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since I won the award despite my team not making the playoffs, which I assume is unheard of because individual awards are usually linked with team success. I mean, obviously I was honored because the award is voted on by my peers but it was hard to celebrate since the team had nothing to show for a season’s worth of hard work. I guess “bittersweet” would be the best word to describe how I felt about winning it.
Q: Your time with Kansas City ended in the 2010 season, how did it feel to leave a club you’d made such an impact on? Would you have liked to finish up there?
A: I spent 8 years of my life in Kansas City, which is where I started a family, made lifelong friends, and created a vast amount of incredible memories but, based on my relationship with the current coaching staff, it was definitely time to move on.
Q: Joining Chivas you notched a goal against Sporting KC, what was that like? Did it feel like you had proved a point perhaps?
A: I’d be lying if I said the goal didn’t carry any emotional weight whatsoever but my new team and I ended up losing the game, 3-2, so any point I proved in the moment I scored didn’t mean as much at the final whistle.
Q: As a defender who not only won the Gold Cup but played over 25 times for his country, how do you rate the US current defensive prospects?
A: I think we have identified quite a few players who have the potential to be solid contributors to our national team but I don’t think anyone has stepped up and seized the opportunity, which, frankly, is a bit alarming because we need to start transitioning from Bocanegra, Onyewu, Demerit, and Cherundolo sooner rather than later. I mean, I love those guys but it’s rare to have too many players on the wrong side of 30 being major contributors in a World Cup. I hope they prove me wrong though!
Q: Are you big on memorabilia do you have any of your USMNT shirts for example?
A: I have a few of my national team shirts but only the ones that signified a major accomplishment in my career, like my first cap with the full team, my 2006 World Cup jersey, and the jersey I wore when I scored against Mexico in 2007. Outside of those, I gave the rest away to family and friends. Why do you ask? Do you want one?
Q: Do you think the USSF was right to dispense of Bob Bradley when they did?
A: I’ll preface my answer to this very layered question by stating that I don’t think any coach in any country should have the national team job for more than one World Cup cycle or a maximum of 4 years because I firmly believe that it’s not healthy to the program. Otherwise things grow stale because the players tune out the coach and a general malaise infects the team. As for “when” they fired him, I suppose that on the heels of being thoroughly outplayed by our biggest rival for a chance to go to the Confederations Cup would be as good a time as any.
Q: Away from football you’re quite prominent in the media side of the game, what got you interested in that?
A: I don’t remember ever setting out to be a quote-unquote “media whore” when I first came into MLS but it all started when I was in Poland. I used to go to these internet cafes to write emails back to friends and family to keep them updated on the latest travails of my Polish adventure but the internet was so slow that after two months of it, I literally lost my mind, wrote a scathing email to everyone I know, my agent included, about how Poland was living in the Stone Age. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my agent pitched the scathing email to Sports Illustrated and off I went.
Q: Do you think players could do more in terms of media, by that I mean be a bit more honest and not always offer the diplomatic answers they do?
A: I think Facebook and Twitter have changed the game in terms of how fans interact with players and vice versa so I think there is probably more honesty oozing out of players than ever before but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Based on the mental and emotional capacity of some athletes around the globe, sometimes less is more.
Q: I also read you’ll be doing some coaching with Chivas Youth, are you excited by the prospect? Have you thought about what you’re approach will be to teaching?
A: I will be teaching the “How To Be Awesome Like Me” approach. I plan on having my little army of clones dominating the fields and the blogosphere in no time.
Q: Now, you’ll obviously have some more free time available, how do you see yourself filling your days? Maybe rivaling Brek Shea in the art world?
A; Sadly, I have less free time now than I did prior to retiring, which makes me yearn for the 3-hour-a-day workday that I spent the last 13 years of my life reveling in. Damn this real job, 9-to-5 crap!
Q: I also couldn’t interview you without mentioning the ‘ConradRoast’ do you have any reply to those mean folk who poked fun?
A: To be honest, I loved the meanest comments the most because they cut right to the core of what my perceived weaknesses are and, well, because they were funny and I like to laugh.