Centerline Report: “Never Nyquilizing” Jimmy Conrad hosts SSVCF annual dinner
This Friday night, the Soccer Silicon Valley Community Foundation will hold its fifth annual fundraising dinner, and the keynote speaker will be former San Jose Earthquakes fan-favorite Jimmy Conrad. A 13-year veteran of MLS and 27-times capped U.S. Men’s National Team defender, Conrad started his career with San Jose in 1999 before being traded to Kansas City prior to the 2003 season. He retired last year with an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup to his credit, and he currently is the founding host of the YouTube soccer channel, KickTV. Never Nyquilizing and always entertaining, Conrad spoke to the Centerline Report about all things San Jose soccer.
Centerline Report: First off, let’s get this on the record, since you were around for both monikers: Clash or Earthquakes?
Jimmy Conrad: The Earthquakes for sure! Looking back, it’s only because of the color scheme and it was a “clash” of color as well.
CR: You signed with San Jose as an undrafted player out of UCLA just as a young MLS was entering its fourth year. You experienced some of the growing pains as the league sought to establish its identity on the American sports landscape. What was that initial taste of being a professional soccer player like for you?
JC: We didn’t make the playoffs in my first year, but we were the team with the highest number of points not to make the playoffs. The next year they brought in some guys that they hoped would make us better, but I always thought we were grasping at straws. We just never clicked as a group on and off the field. It was a good learning experience for guys like myself and Joe Cannon and Richard Mulrooney and Wade Barrett. We did not want to go through that again, and to know what it felt like to be a loser and on the worst team in the league.
A couple things fell into place in 2001. Before the season began, they were looking for a new coach, so they talked to a few of us, Joe, Richard, Wade, and myself. We were all kind of hungry and wanted a coach that has the same level of ambition. We wanted someone young, and hip I suppose, who was up and coming and not just some recycled guy. Obviously they made a wise choice with Frank Yallop, and him bringing in Dominic Kinnear and building such a great staff helped too.
Frank brought in a lot of guys that had something to prove and he had something to prove too. It made it really easy to get everyone on the same page. The best teams that Frank have coached are the ones he built that have that kind of mentality, and that is definitely reflected in the team he has now in San Jose.
CR: Yallop turned the fortunes of the franchise around, and the Earthquakes went from worst to first in MLS upon his arrival. What was your favorite moment wearing a San Jose uniform?
JC: I think winning MLS Cup in 2001 is the easiest answer. That was a hard year for me on the field. I broke my foot early on and it was really hard for me to get back into the team when I got healthy. It was an up and down year, but it ended on such a high note winning the Cup. It showed that I could play in high pressure situations and play in big games. That year set me up for future success, both in MLS and with the U.S. national team.
CR: An important member of that 2001 team was forward Ronald Cerritos, who until last weekend when he was passed on the list by Chris Wondolowski, was the all-time San Jose goal scoring leader. You played with Cerritos in your time with the Earthquakes; how did he compare to Wondolowski?
JC: What I really enjoyed about Ronald, and I think Wondo has the same thing in him, is that he was never satisfied and always wanted to get better and work on his game so he could score more goals. Both those guys are opportunistic in front of goal and never give up on the play. They are always trying to sniff something out and to take advantage of any situation. Like Ronald, Wondo learned that you do that and you might score a few more goals.
Ronald was really good in the air, and had great timing. He was one of those guys that you wouldn’t always see and then he would step up and score a big goal. He was always thinking and moving and then would bait you as a defender. He would make great runs for the other guys that you could really appreciate playing with him on the field. He was a guy, like Wondo today, that we could count on day in and day out.
CR: While Wondolowski is rewriting the club’s history this season, another Earthquakes player has also made a big leap forward in his performances. A late bloomer to international soccer like yourself, Alan Gordon is set to make a mark with the U.S. Men’s National Team in a pair of very important World Cup qualifiers. Are you impressed or surprised to see Gordon get the call-up so late in his career?
JC: I didn’t get my first cap with the national team until I was 28 years old, and Alan could be getting his first at age 30 which would be incredible and a testament to his determination to continue to get better. A lot of guys seem to plateau after they reach 26, 27 years old, but Gordo has found a way to make an impact and he’s scoring big goals and plays with more and more confidence in himself. He uses the skill set he has and is not pretending to be anyone else. He looks like he’s enjoying himself and everyone on the team seems to be happy for one another and genuinely enjoying themselves out there.
CR: Turning back to yourself and looking beyond your own dominating performances on the pitch, you’ve made a seamless transition into the realm of the media since your retirement, and now you help run a very successful YouTube soccer channel, KickTV. What has that transition been like for you and just how much fun has it been to be an on-camera personality?
JC: Every time I get in front of a camera, I have no idea what I’m going to do! Last year at MLS Cup, I was introduced to the idea of hosting a YouTube channel that would focus on soccer and would let me showcase my personality. I was the first hire, and we started the channel flying by the seat of our pants. We still are to a certain degree as we try to find and maintain and our identity. We can be serious, but more often than not we are trying to be lighthearted and present a fun perspective of the game around the world.
Recently, I have started my own show on KickTV, which I stole the title from my old podcast, Jimmy Conrad’s American Soccer Spectacular, because it is the best podcast title ever. I’m going to explore the game in America and help educate people here and around the world about how we are making the sport better in this country.
Above all, at KickTV we try to make everything look cool and exciting. Going out on the road and getting great interviews and meeting fans around the world: that is one way we are going to beat out regular television. It is a bit like the Wild West, and we are definitely making up the rules as we go. Eventually we want to be a full production channel providing soccer news and entertainment.
CR: Your engaging personality certainly is not lost on the camera, but it is magnitudes more impressive when you get to interact with people live. As keynote speaker for the 2012 SSVCF annual dinner, what should banquet goers expect when they join you this Friday night?
JC: I’ll definitely talk about some of my history with the Earthquakes and share some stories that people will find fun. When I am done with all that, there’s going to be a Q&A part too. I will encourage everyone to put questions in a box I’ll set up out front. I’ll answer anything about myself whether it is soccer related or not. As for my speech, it’s not rocket science, and I’ll make sure I am a crowd pleaser. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
SSVCF will be holding its 5th annual fundraising dinner on Friday evening, October 12 at the beautiful Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from Jimmy Conrad and, as in years past, mingle with San Jose Earthquakes players present and past. Space is very limited, so make sure to RSVP ASAP.