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Jimmy Conrad goes out in style

Veteran of MLS and World Cup calls it a career and has those in attendance in stitches while announcing his retirement.

August 20, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Jimmy Conrad played 290 games for San Jose, Kansas City and Chivas USA, starting 275. He was a five-time MLS All-Star and the league's defender of the year in 2005.
Jimmy Conrad played 290 games for San Jose, Kansas City and Chivas USA, starting… (Ned Dishman / Getty Images )

The "scrawny kid from Temple City" has exited the stage. The applause will take some time to fade, as will the laughter.

Jimmy Conrad announced last week his retirement as a player, doing so with extraordinary flair and a good deal of humor.

At 34, Conrad has an intriguing future ahead of him, as a coach and especially as a broadcaster. A concussion might have ended his playing days a little too soon, but it did not rob the former UCLA, Major League Soccer and U.S. World Cup defender of his poise and self-assurance.

On his last day as player, Conrad gave a lesson in how to bow out with class, dignity and honesty, delivering a heartfelt statement and then turning the follow-up question-and-answer session almost into a stand-up comedy routine.

What might have been a bittersweet occasion was enlivened by Conrad's love of the absurd.

"I'm an Aquarius; I like long walks on the beach," he said, apropos of nothing. "Sorry, I thought someone was going to ask that."

There was more.

"I think the biggest relief aspect to it is that I can now tell everybody what's happening, that there's been some closure, and that I can get on with my modeling career. … Did I say that out loud? Sorry."

Conrad played 290 games for San Jose, Kansas City and Chivas USA, starting 275. He was a five-time MLS All-Star and the league's defender of the year in 2005.

He was asked whether Kansas City, where he rose to stardom, would honor him in any way.

"Like a statue?" Conrad said. "Are you asking about a statue? I'm working on that. A testimonial would be nice too. I'm just throwing that out there."

The former NCAA champion played 28 games for the U.S., including two against Italy and Ghana at the Germany 2006 World Cup.

"I didn't get my first cap with the national team until I was 28," Conrad said. "I'll state publicly: I hated [then-U.S. coach] Bruce Arena for a long time. Because I was just like, 'What's the deal, man? What else do I have to do?' … But now we're best friends. It's all good."

Then, in an aside to Chivas USA's beat writers, he added: "Can you add that part? Just don't cut that out. I've seen that. I know what you guys do."

Conrad is very media savvy, which is one reason why television will soon be calling.

"Actually, all that fun stuff, whether it was blogging, or writing or doing podcasts, was always a good balance for me, it always kept things in perspective," he said. "I felt like I always took what I did seriously but I never took myself seriously. I think that's helped earn some respect along the way, I'm sure."

There was respect when Conrad was selected by coach Steve Nicol ahead of the likes of David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco as captain of the 2008 MLS All-Star team.

There was no respect from Ronaldo, Brazil's three-time world player of the year, when Conrad played for the MLS All-Stars against Real Madrid in Spain in 2005.

"I learned more in those 90 minutes than probably in any other games I've ever played in," Conrad said. "Just because you get to see the decisions they make and how easy they make the game look and how hard they make it for you to play the game.

"I went up against Ronaldo … he was amazing. There was a play where he had a step on me — and he's already going to be faster than I am — and he turned around while running full speed and stuck his hand into my throat to create another yard of space.

"I was so bitter during the game. I was like, 'Dude, you're already faster than me. Can't you just take that? Isn't that worth something to you, you know?' But it wasn't. He wanted to create another yard of space to score a goal."

Conrad's career was always about proving that he could do what others said he could not. In that respect, Bob Gansler, the U.S. coach at the 1990 World Cup, was a perfect mentor for Conrad at Kansas City.

"Gansler was a huge influence on me," Conrad said. "He was very tough. At the time, I didn't appreciate what he was about and who he was. It was tough love. I got yelled at a lot. I got told I wasn't good enough a lot. But he knew my personality enough that he knew I would respond to it in a positive way.

"He gave me thick skin, and I think it prepared me to play in big games, to make mistakes and to overcome them. Maybe I was already headed in that direction, but I don't think I could have gotten there without his assistance."

Now, Conrad is set to become a teacher himself.

"I think I have a lot to offer," he said. "I take a great deal of pride in brainwashing America's youth.

"I let them know that there's no magic pill you can take. Nothing I say is going to magically make you better. If you're willing to put the work in, then you're going to reap the rewards. It's that simple."

He also had some words for the crowds.

"Thanks to all the fans that supported the teams I played on and cheered for the scrawny kid from Temple City who made up in heart what he lacked in skill," he said.

"I will always cherish the moments of running in front of you in small shorts and long socks with other grown men while trying to kick a ball in a certain direction."

For Conrad, that direction is onward and upward. The soccer journey continues.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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