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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.

New U.S. Soccer leadership: Settling USWNT’s lawsuit a priority

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NEW YORK — The newly installed president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Soccer Federation used their first news conference to state that settling a lawsuit filed by women’s national team players is a top priority.

“A lot of damage has been done, and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild the relationship. It is not going to happen overnight,” President Cindy Parlow Cone said Tuesday. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and energy from the U.S. Soccer side to rebuild that trust, not only with our U.S. women’s national team players, but with our fans and everyone engaged in the sport.”

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Players claim they have not been paid equally to the men’s national team and asked for more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A trial is scheduled for May 5 in federal court in Los Angeles.

“The solution here is clear, simple, and unequivocal: equal pay,” responded Molly Levinson, spokeswomen for the players.

In legal papers filed this month ahead of the trial, the USSF claimed the women’s team didn’t have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men’s team. That sparked a furor that included an on-field protest by players wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out to hide the USSF crest. The outcry led to the resignation of USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and caused the federation to change its lead law firm.

Chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke has been placed on administrative leave, which was first reported Tuesday by ESPN. Parlow Cone said an outside firm has been retained to review USSF decision-making that led to the briefs “to see where that process broke down.” She hopes to schedule settlement talks.

“I don’t think a trial is good for either party or for soccer,” Parlow Cone said.

A 41-year-old World Cup and Olympic champion, Parlow Cone had been the USSF vice president before Cordeiro quit on March 12.

“The comments and the language in the last filing,” Parlow Cone said, “I think not only hurt our relationship with our women’s national team, but hurt women and girls in general, and as a former national player, they were personally hurtful to me.”

Will Wilson, a former MLS executive and the uncle of retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, was hired as chief executive officer Monday to replace Dan Flynn, who retired in September. The 52-year-old Wilson had been co-head of the NFL division of the Wasserman Media Group, which represents players.

“The wording, the comments in the filing were quite frankly shocking and very, very disappointing to me,” Wilson said.

Parlow Cone said she is part of the USSF’s board special litigation committee along with youth council representative Tim Turney and independent director Patti Hart. She said the committee was never given a chance to review the filings before they were submitted to the court.

“There was a fundamental error in our processes,” Parlow Cone said.

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She drew a distinction between this month’s filing and previous legal arguments by the federation.

“I think it’s one thing to argue that men and women play in different tournaments and play against different teams, and it’s altogether a different statement to say that therefore the women carry less responsibility or have less ability,” Parlow Cone said.

She said it was too soon to decide whether she would run next February to complete the final year of Cordeiro’s term. Parlow Cone also said the USSF is open to having the women and men negotiate together for a common labor deal, but that decision is up to the two unions under federal labor law.

Wilson, who said he received a multiyear contract, said it was not clear whether the postponement of the Olympics would cause Nike and other sponsors to decrease payments to the USSF this year. He is likely to take a role in organizing the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Mexico and Canada.

In addition, the USSF faces antitrust suits by the promoter Relient seeking to allow foreign leagues to play in the U.S. and by the lower level North American Soccer League, which stopped play after 2017 and wanted a promotion-relegation system.

The U.S. men’s national team has been without a collective bargaining agreement since December 2018. Some federation staff complained about working conditions under Flynn and his No. 2, chief commercial and strategy officer Jay Berhalter – the brother of men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. Jay Berhalter left the USSF last month when it became clear he would not succeed Flynn.

“Yes, there are issues. That’s obvious,” Wilson said. “But for me it was the fact that we had to address those and find resolutions, attack the culture and really create a place that people want to be and want to work.”

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner called off a March 30 hearing to decide summary judgment motions by each side and will issue his rulings based on the written submissions.

Rapinoe: USWNT ‘doesn’t buy’ apology from U.S. Soccer

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USWNT star Megan Rapinoe has hit out at U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and their president Carlos Cordeiro as they issued a hastily-arranged apology to the U.S. women’s national team.

She’s not buying it.

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Cordeiro issued an apology on Wednesday after a court filing disparaged female athletes and called the World Cup champions an inferior squad to the men’s national team. The filing also claimed that the women have it easier because fierce away crowds are tougher on the men. Multiple major sponsors, including Coca-Cola, issued statements condemning the language in the court filing and supporting the USWNT.

Rapinoe, 34, scored a superb free kick as the USWNT beat Japan 3-1 on Wednesday to win a third SheBelievesCup and speaking to the media after the game and following Cordeiro’s apology, Rapinoe wasn’t best pleased with the conduct of the USSF.

“We don’t buy it….That wasn’t for us. That was for fans, media, sponsors…” Rapinoe said. “Every negotiation we’ve had, those undertones are in there that we’re lesser. Every mediation session that we had, any time we meet with them and obviously the reason we filed this lawsuit. So for him to put that out saying sorry, presuming it’s for us, we don’t buy it. That wasn’t for us at all, that was for everybody else.”

The USWNT warmed up for Wednesday’s match with their uniform tops inside out, hiding the badge of the federation, and took its Starting XI photo as an entire squad.

Cordeiro’s apology came after details were released of a court filing as the USSF and USWNT are locked in an equal pay lawsuit, with the blame put at the foot of the USSF lawyers.

Lawyers for the USWNT want $66 million in damages and Cordeiro finished his statement by saying “we will continue to work to resolve this suit in the best interest of everyone involved.”

It is safe to say the language used by the USSF lawyers will not help at all when it comes to getting this situation resolved and the USWNT now have even more backing outside of the courtroom.

USSF says hostile crowds give USMNT different jobs than USWNT

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NEW YORK — The U.S. Soccer Federation says facing hostile crowds in Mexico and Central America makes playing for the U.S. men’s national team a different job than competing for the USWNT.

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The USSF made the claim in documents filed Tuesday night in federal court in Los Angeles, where a lawsuit by American women accusing the federation of gender discrimination is scheduled for trial starting May 5. The USWNT are seeking more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“MNT players routinely play matches (important World Cup qualifiers, in particular) throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The USWNT does not,” the USSF said. “Opposing fan hostility encountered in these USMNT road environments, especially in Mexico and Central America, is unmatched by anything the USWNT must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament. Even the hostility of fans at home crowds for the USMNT in some friendlies can be unlike anything the USWNT faces. This is all evidence of substantially different jobs under the EPA.”

Both sides have moved for summary judgments, asking U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to decide in their favor without a trial.

The women and the men have separate collective bargaining agreements, and the women claim the men receive more — even though the women’s national team is far more successful. The USSF contends a large part of the difference is due to World Cup prize money.

FIFA awarded $400 million for the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France – the U.S. men failed to qualify – and $30 million for last year’s Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title. FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup and FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for 2023.

FIFA pays bonuses to national federations, and each makes its own deal with its players.

“Passing on the discriminatory prize money differential of FIFA to the federation is exactly the perpetuation of discrimination that the EPA seeks to remedy,” lawyers for the women said in their filing. “USSF cannot rely upon a third party’s discrimination as a justification for its own decision to discriminate in World Cup compensation between the USMNT players and USWNT players.”

“A third party’s payment to USSF — an amount that USSF did not even know at the time it negotiated either team’s World Cup compensation provisions — is not a job-related factor that … can justify a wage discrimination,” they wrote.

The women claimed the men traveled on charter flights almost three times more often than the women from 2014-19 despite the women playing 33 more matches,

The USSF said the women claimed their ability level is the same as the men “by ignoring the materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of an USMNT player.”

In addition, the federation said the men have averaged three times the television viewers of the women during the last three years for matches whose rights are owned by the USSF.

South Florida officials seeking more international soccer

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) More than two dozen political leaders in South Florida have written letters to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors, urging them to allow top-tier international matches to take place in the Miami region.

Relevent Sports, the soccer-promoting group owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, filed suit against the USSF earlier this year saying that the sport’s governing body in this country was helping to prevent them from hosting certain matches.

The letters were released Friday to media outlets, including The Associated Press.

The USSF did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross’ group and top Spanish league La Liga have been working for some time to bring a regular-season match to Hard Rock Stadium, the facility Ross owns and is the Dolphins’ home.

The politicians – ranging from city mayors, county mayors, county commissioners and one state Senator – all essentially said the same thing, that bringing major international soccer to South Florida only will help the region’s tourist-dependent economy.

“Doing so will demonstrate a genuine commitment to our communities and the growth of the game, which you, as the United States Soccer Federation, are charged with promoting,” wrote Dean Trantalis, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale. That’s the city where David Beckham’s new MLS team, Inter Miami, will begin play next March.