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Jimmy Conrad
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Conrad talks U.S. Soccer as he waits for managerial debut

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Jimmy Conrad knew this Spring was going to be a new and challenging time in his career well before coronavirus became a worldwide pandemic.

The retired USMNT defender and former MLS Defender of the Year was set to embark on his first managerial position as head coach of USL League Two side San Francisco Glens, where he served as technical director last year.

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Instead of gearing up for a May start, however, Conrad’s Glens are one of many clubs in a realm of uncertainty regarding when it will be safe to train, let alone play. USL League Two “still intends to play in 2020” but postponed at least the first three days of its season to coincide with the League One and Championship schedule changes.

We spoke with the 27-times capped Conrad about that and his playing career, which was a plucky rise through every level of the American soccer landscape. We also spoke about what he’d change about the U.S. Soccer Federation during this time of turmoil, and what still irks him about the 2018 World Cup qualifying fiasco (You can listen to the entire 50-minute conversation here).

Jimmy Conrad
Razak Pimpong of Ghana gets tackled by Conrad  at the 2006 World Cup (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Let’s start with the new gig, which Conrad says he’d like to be the start of a managerial career. He headed right into media after his playing days, becoming incredibly popular with a six-figure subscriber total on YouTube in what he calls going “down an incredible rabbit hole” away from the traditional employ of the beautiful game.

But an opportunity opened up when Glens coach Javier Ayala-Hil took a job with the University of San Francisco men.

“I’m raring and eager to take over and see what I’m made of,” Conrad said. “It’s one thing to talk as a pundit, doing podcasts, and doing social media and you’re on the outside. I know what it looks like on the inside as a former player but to actually be in charge of a team and to learn how to communicate properly because not everyone absorbs information the same way? It’s an unbelievable challenge.”

That’s a test that will be complicated by players who are not only isolated now but without the benefit of a spring season with their college or a dozen men’s league matches to stay in shape.

In some ways, Conrad says it will help him see what his players are made of in a league which serves as a showcase for hopeful professionals.

“This is going to really determine who can handle adversity and who can’t,” he said. “How can I work on my game when the season isn’t happening and things aren’t going exactly the way I want? In some ways, this unprecedented situation is weeding the guys out for you. Those who take advantage of this time, who are lifting weights, or working on their weak foot, or first touch, are the ones who are going to be professionals. But the ones who can’t handle it, and crack under this type of pressure, they aren’t going to stick. That might be a really harsh way of looking at it, but this is how it goes where you have to cut your teeth against as I say grown men in small shorts kicking a ball in a certain direction. It’s a real thin line between success and failure.”

What gives Conrad the faith in himself as a coach comes from his background. He wasn’t a hot commodity as a high school or college player. That didn’t stop him from becoming a six-time MLS All-Star or making it onto a World Cup pitch.

He believes that the lows and highs of his experience will help him associate with any player that makes their way onto the Glens roster in League Two.

“One of the advantages I have is I didn’t get recruited out of high school,” he said. “When I won the national championship in college I was the one senior who didn’t get drafted into MLS. I worked my way into being a free agent and signing with San Jose and I didn’t start right away.

“I was never the guy. I had to learn how to develop those skills. Eventually when I got the confidence to be the guy, I was up for MLS Defender of the Year. I was a six-time MLS All-Star, Humanitarian of the Year, got with the national team, and I just feel like I can relate to every single player. I don’t think I skipped any steps. I had to struggle, then I made it, then I had to struggle again. I got hurt, had to deal with the injuries.

“I’ve dealt with the pressure of having success and how to maintain that, having kids throughout the process, getting married. Everything included, I think that gives me a big advantage, but it’s how you give off that information and how they’re absorbing that information that will determine whether I’m a good coach or a great one.”

If you’ll allow some editorializing, Conrad’s tenacity is best exemplified by his eventual arrival on the USMNT national team scene.

He had become one of the top defenders in MLS, but wasn’t getting looks. He’d see his teammates leave for international camps and feel hunger pangs.

“I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to know what it felt like. I didn’t express it to anybody but I really wanted it inside. It just never happened I’d see Bruce at places and he wouldn’t even look at me, and I thought, ‘What do I have to do?’

Conrad captaining the USMNT at the 2009 Gold Cup (Photo by Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)

He didn’t debut for Arena until deep into his 20s, and once turned down a call-up because it came during a players’ dispute. He wanted to make the team on his merits, and it clobbered him to turn down the call.

So when he finally got a camp invitation he could accept, he set his sights small. Kansas City teammate Nick Garcia was already part of the USMNT system, and Conrad obsessively went about proving he could be an improvement.
“All I wanted to prove was that I was better than Nick Garcia, I don’t even know that he knows this,” Conrad said. “I would purposely try to get in running groups with Nick. I would make sure I would beat Nick in every single thing that we did. What’s crazy about it is it kinda took the pressure off. This was such a monumental thing for me and I knew that over three weeks I could prove my worth for sure. I think because of having such a small goal, I didn’t get overwhelmed by the moment.”

He’d play in every game at the next Gold Cup, which the U.S. won, and made two appearances with one start at the 2006 World Cup.

The occasion, as you can imagine, left an indelible imprint on his life as a player and citizen.

“It’s the World Cup, and you’re there, and you know that your whole country is cheering for you,” he said. “The national anthem never sounded like that to me as it did at the World Cup and hasn’t since. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that you’re representing hundreds of millions back home and they’re all pulling for you. No politics, whatever. It made the hard work and sacrifice all worth it.”

Conrad has continued to follow the USMNT and USWNT for reasons both passionate and career-related.

The failures of the federation both on-the-field (2018 World Cup qualifying) and off has left Conrad with plenty of criticisms and hopes. He sees a tie between the malaise he believed permeated the qualifying campaign and what’s happened at fed HQ in Chicago.

He’s intrigued that more USMNT and USWNT experienced players are on the soccer side and praises the hirings of Kate Markgraf, Earnie Stewart, and Brian McBride. He hopes the business side can start simply doing the right thing.

“There’s a need for new blood,” he said. “We’re really loyal and the people who’ve been there a long time, they are protecting what they built. A lot of them have put 20, 30, 40 years in. To think we have to move them along for new blood seems very harsh but there’s a way to do it where we can work together.

“They need to hire more people. There’s just not enough people to tackle all these roles. I’ll talk to someone at U.S. Soccer and MLS and they’re doing five different things. I respect their hustle, but man it would probably be a lot easier if we had more people. That’s slowly starting to happen in MLS. That’s a good sign, but U.S. Soccer is still stuck at Soccer House in Chicago, at this broken down castle, and they need to evolve.”

Conrad added that there needs to be as much ownership of the failures as the successes. Yes, MLS has risen dramatically and the USSF has very much helped that. And the USWNT is one of the best teams in the world.

But from so many key pieces of the qualifying failure, right down to the man Conrad says he owes his USMNT career, there has not been a lot of acceptance of any share of responsibility.

“I don’t think it needs to be one person raising their hand, but nobody wants the responsibility,” Conrad said. “I did a video for this little thing I’m doing called The Soccer Minute where Bruce Arena came out and said it isn’t his fault. Nobody wants the responsibility. I owe my whole World Cup experience and national team chances to Bruce Arena. I love the guy, but I was really disappointed. I was just really disappointed that he didn’t say I could’ve done better.

“He picks the players and the players didn’t show up in that last game either. I feel like more people would take responsibility if he would raise his hand and say I could’ve done better. And then other guys would say, ‘Yeah you know what, I could’ve done better, too’ And then we could most past it. I think we all just want to here some collective responsibility but it’s always everybody deflecting all the time and what kind of message does that send?”

You can listen to the full interview here.

MLS weekend preview: Quakes look to stay alive, Revs one win away from playoffs

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It’s the penultimate weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is nowhere near being completed, especially in the Western Conference. With two Sundays to go, four teams remain in the hunt for the final spot in the East. In the West, the fifth, sixth and seventh spots are yet to be decided.

Here’s a quick preview of each match being played this Sunday:

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders: Will the San Jose Earthquakes’ miraculous turnaround under Matias Almeyda go the next level with the clinching of a playoff spot? Only a point away from surpassing the red line, San Jose are statistically forced to win against a playoff-destined Seattle Sounders, who look to move as high as second in the Western Conference with two games to play, on Sunday if they want to make an already laudable reconfiguration into a generational one. With the return of Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza, the Quakes’ chances will be as good as they’ll get at this point of the season: a coin flip.

New England Revolution vs. NYCFC:  NYCFC’s visit to Gillette Stadium is the Eastern Conference’s biggest game of the weekend. Domenec Torrent’s side are in a comfortable position – six points clear of second place Philadelphia Union. The New England Revolution, however, are a win away from clinching a playoff berth. Then again, with Bruce Arena leading the Revs, one can assume that the home team will sneak into the postseason.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers: After a rocky start to their season, the Portland Timbers are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Timbers’ followers, clinching playoffs is not the topic of interests. After six years, Diego Valeri is reportedly playing his final days in Rose City, as contract talks between both parties have hit a roadblocks. The question now becomes: will Valeri’s  uncertain future affect the Timbers’ on the field starting this Sunday against an eliminated Sporting KC?

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC: After 13 years, countless goals and memories, the Chicago Fire say goodbye to Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire, who are relocating to Soldier Field next season in the hopes of drawing interest from proper Chicago’s large soccer fanbase, are not entirely out of the playoff race either. With a loss from the Revs and win at home, Veljko Paunovic and company would be only a point removed from New England. Chicago’s latest result – a scoreless draw against a poor Cincinnati – doesn’t give the impression that they’ll be able to edge a balanced Toronto, who are in the postseason yet again.

Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo: Real Salt Lake continue to produce, despite their internal turmoil. On Friday, the club parted ways with general manager Craig Waibel in the wake of a lawsuit raised by former coach Mike Petke, who made a reference that Waibel was critical of owner Dell Loy Hansen and said he was resigning from his position at the end of the season. Recent history indicates the team will respond positively to such self-inflicted roadblocks. But with only a foot across the red line, it will be interesting to see how they show up against a crumbling Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas: Robin Fraser’s new-look Colorado Rapids aren’t out yet, but their playoff chances hang on by a thread, if that. On the other side, FC Dallas – a point above San Jose – look to win out and, as a result, sneak into the playoffs. They’ll have to do so against a new Rapids scheme in which attackers and defenders alike are scoring. No easy task for a Dallas team that has allowed five goals in their last three games.

FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City: While Carlos Vela actively looks to break the league record for the most scored goals in a season, FC Cincinnati hopes not to be the team to allow the most goals in a single season. They’re one away from doing so. With Orlando City, who need to win out in order to have any last-minute chances to qualify, Ron Jans’ side’s probabilities are slim.

Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United: Montreal Impact are one of the four teams fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s big party. With midweek Canadian Championship celebrations still fresh, the Impact may have plenty of inspiration to pick up the reaming six points (or not). Jose Martinez-less Atlanta United, on the other hand, look to bounce back from a crushing loss to NYCFC that cost them the second spot in the East.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: Fresh off a win against the Quakes, Jim Curtin and company look to separate themselves from Atlanta United, and seal second place in the East. The Crew, who have proven to be a threat time and time again this season, will put up a fight.

Minnesota United vs. LAFC: With a Supporters’ Shield to point towards, LAFC have every reason to take things slow until the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. That said, given that Vela is one goal away from tying Martinez’s league record, though, the Black-and-Gold will likely continue moving forward at full speed until the Mexican writes his name in the record book. If that holds true, LAFC and second place Minnesota United will be a must-watch.

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United:  A rivalry with two games left in the regular season is never a bad thing, especially when both teams are looking to climb the standings before the playoffs. To add to a thick plot, both teams are already in good form, and only a point apart in the Eastern Conference standings.

LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Just a couple of months ago, the LA Galaxy were in serious trouble of making the playoffs. But with the improvement of their backline and the non-stop dominating play from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy now find themselves playoff bound. It’s the type of transformation the Whitecaps were looking for but were never able to accomplish in Marc Dos Santos’ first year at the helm. As expected, the home side will look to exploit that and aim for the West’s second spot.

Late VAR call hands NYCFC valuable victory over Revs (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  There are zero doubts about it: Saturday’s officiating at Yankee Stadium highly influenced NYCFC’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution. For instance, Bruce Arena’s meltdown in front of the fourth official in the dying seconds of the game was a testament to role the referees played. Just nine minutes in, the Revs played with 10 players, following a direct red card to defender Antonio Delamea after video review. Of course, like in any game, there was clearly a superior team on the field, regardless of what the scoreline indicated. That team throughout the course of the game was the home side, who eventually separated themselves from the visitors following the substitution of Jesus Medina. The Paraguayan scored two goals, but his second takes us back to square one: officiating and video review. Well into extra time, the home side were awarded a penalty following video review. Medina converted from the penalty spot, lifting NYCFC atop the Eastern Conference table, while delivering another low blow to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Three moments that mattered

2′ — Caicedo wastes no time to score  — It’s been a slow year for Juan Caicedo. This, however, will serve his confidence well.

70′ — Medina makes an instant impact off the bench  — Despite a positive game from Maxi Moralez, NYCFC needed someone to step up and score. Jesus Medina did just that 10 minutes after taking the field.

96′ — VAR saves the day for the home side — The sequence leading up to Medina’s second goal will be a talking point all weekend.

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Man of the match: Jesus Medina

Goalscorers: Caicedo (2′), Medina (70′), Medina (96′)

Bruce Arena builds front office staff as Onalfo joins Revolution

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The New England Revolution announced on Sunday that the club hired Curt Onalfo as technical director, with Richie Williams brought on as assistant coach.

Onalfo, a 49-year-old Sao Paulo, Brazil native, has been a coach in the United States since 2000 when he joined D.C. United as an assistant. Since, he has spent time with Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy and the U.S. Youth National Team, leading both MLS clubs for a time and taking charge of the U.S. U-20 and U-23 sides. He will report directly to Bruce Arena, who was named Sporting Director and Head Coach on May 14.

Arena is familiar with Onalfo from his first stint with the USMNT and more recently with the Galaxy, where Onalfo served as an assistant until Arena left to take the USMNT job in late 2016 and Onalfo was named his successor. Most recently, Onalfo was out in Poland with Tab Ramos and the U-20 side at the World Cup.

“I am very pleased to add Curt to our technical staff as we continue to build the soccer organization in New England,” Arena said in the official club release. “Having worked with Curt for many years, I know his vast knowledge and experience in the game will make him an immediate asset to the club.”

Williams, meanwhile, left his job as head coach of USL club Loudoun United FC to take the position with the Revolution. He has previously been with Arena as an assistant with the USMNT during Arena’s second stint and with the New York Red Bulls before that. During his playing days, Williams made 20 appearances for the USMNT and played for Arena with D.C. United and the national team, and even as far back as in college at Virginia, where Arena spent 27 years as head coach.

“Richie and I have a relationship that dates back nearly 30 years, and I have the utmost confidence that he will bring the same energy, enthusiasm, and expertise of the game to the Revolution that he has throughout each stop of his coaching and playing career,” Arena said in the release.

As he plans to rebuild Revs, Arena ‘proud’ of second USMNT stint

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Bruce Arena has accepted the challenge of rebuilding the New England Revolution, though the legendary American coach is still being quizzed about his last gig.

Speaking Thursday after his appointment as Revs boss, Arena was asked about rebounding from the United States men’s national team’s terrible failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

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It was always going to happen, and his quotes were always going to grab headlines. Arena, for his part, did not disappoint.

“I was actually proud of the job I did in 2017,” Arena said. “We had a great group of players and they worked real hard and we fell short. That’s life, unfortunately. Sometimes people don’t understand that. We played 18 games and lost two of them in 2017. Overall, I think it was a positive experience.”

The Yanks lost two of their final four games in the Hex, gaining just four points. The first loss was at home to Costa Rica and the second was to already-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago’s B Team.

“Certainly, I’m as disappointed as anybody in that failure. I don’t define that as my legacy, personally. I know others do. I’m working and trying to be as good as I can be. I’m 67 years old in a country where the president is in his 70s. His likely competition in the next election is 70-something, so I’m the young kid on the block. Did I have to do this? No. But I love coaching, I love the sport, I love the challenge in building the game in this country; it’s something I’ve done for 40 years and it’s not easy to walk away from. It’s something that’s very important for me and that’s why I’m here today.”

So anyway…

New England fired Brad Friedel last week with the club five points outside the playoff picture, and Arena says the team’s goal is to get back into the postseason discussion.

The Revs have allowed the most goals in Major League Soccer this season, and missed the playoffs by nine points last season. Arena will bring league nous to New England, and he does have weapons in the form of Carles Gil and Juan Agudelo, but success will take time and added talent.