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Exploring the Sideline Shindig

Part 1: Jimmy Conrad

by Marissa Blackman

The sport of soccer has kickstarted an entire industry of entertainment, fashion, art, and all other forms of expression. Sideline Shindig is all about that industry. While I certainly do love soccer in it’s simplest form, the sport itself, I also love everything else that comes from it. Soccer is the main attraction, but all the “extras” sustain my entertainment.

The entertainment industry that has stemmed from this sport involves so much more than the game itself. There are entire news shows, such ESPN FC, dedicated to the game. There are soccer related clothing lines. There are freestylers like the F2 Freestylers. Then we have the game of FIFA. There are people who have made a career from playing a video game! There are impressionists, paradoies, and I'm really just scratching the surface here.

The thought behind the names of this blog is that being a spectator of soccer is so much fun that it’s like a party- a Sideline Shindig. In this special series all about the people, places, and things that make this sport even more exciting, I invite you to explore the shindig on the sidelines with me. We’re kicking things off with one of my favorites- Jimmy Conrad.

Conradinho, as some call him, is currently one of the hosts on the hit YouTube channel, Kick TV, but he has been involved in the game long before Kick TV came into existence. Conrad's playing career is a story of perseverance and resilience. Despite being told "no" countless times, he worked his way up through the levels of American soccer all the way to the USMNT. He also made his mark in the MLS playing for the San Jose Earthquakes and SKC Wizzards. 

I had the opportunity to pick his brain about a wide range of topics.

Q: What is the most important thing that U.S. soccer needs to do to identify and develop future national team prospects?

I would say it needs to continue to develop its infrastructure. I think it has matured over the last 10, 15 years as more MLS teams have adopted youth academies. I think there still needs to be an emphasis put on our scouting network, what kind of players we’re trying to develop, and coaching educations… there’s a lot of facets to it. I believe we’ve gotten to a point in this country where a lot of kids want to play and they’re hungry to play and get better. So we have enough of those and I think we can identify, hopefully, the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi or Landon Donovan. We should have the numbers to do that. Now, the next step for me is coaching. Can we identify a player at a very young age and then put him in a situation where he can continue to get pushed in the right way and continue to develop in a way that’s beneficial to him both as a player and as a person? We can’t just push these kids into situations where once they fail … we don’t hear from them anymore. We need to make sure we nurture and develop. I’m a late bloomer as a player. I didn’t get my first cap with the national team until I was 28, so I think there’s a lot of different paths to have success and I don’t think we should always just cast some of our very talented players aside if they don’t perform in one or two games.

Q: Ronaldo or Messi?

For me, Messi has always seemed to play for the crest on the front of the shirt, and Ronaldo seems to play for the name on the back. I think that has shifted slightly. I think Ronaldo has learned how to become more of a team player, but they’re both world class talents. Thierry Henry did say over the summer that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the hardest working guys he met, and he had to work that hard to become one of the world’s best players whereas Leo Messi just has the gift. He has that talent, not to say he doesn’t work hard, but it just comes more naturally to him. For purely esthetic reasons, I would lean towards Messi.

Q: Is diving always wrong?

No, I don’t think it is. I think diving gets a bad wrap. I think it’s part of the sport. It happens in other sports as well, like basketball. Anytime you’re in a competitive environment, if you can gain an advantage, you’ll take that opportunity to gain that advantage. Then you put the responsibility on the referee to make the decision. Now, with diving being yellow carded, he can book people who he thinks has taken a dive. As a former defender, I always tried not to put myself in a position where a person could dive. I think it’s part of the drama of the sport, some of the artistry of the sport. I know this is going to sound crazy to most people, but I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s just the way it is. …You do whatever it takes to gain an advantage when you’re a competitor at high levels and that’s what players are trying to do.

Q: What do you think it is that makes soccer so fun to play and watch?

To play, what I think is so beautiful about the game is that you can be any shape or size and have success. You don’t have to be super tall. You don’t have to be incredibly strong. If you’re small, you can gain an advantage by probably having better ball control than some of the bigger guys. You can hold the ball under pressure, and there’s a spot for you on the field. If you are tall, there’s an advantage for you to have that too. You better in the air. There’s such an equalizer. You can be any shape or size and have success if you put the time into the game and you care about it. I love breaking down defenses and solving problems. For me, I always found that very fascinating.

To watch, I think it’s something that you do…It’s unlike other sports. When you think about baseball, it’s like… I’m there with my dad. That’s the vibe that baseball gives off to me. When you go to basketball, there’s just a lot of stoppages. I come from LA, so when you go to a Lakers game, you just wanted to go to a Lakers game to tell people that you went to a Lakers game. Maybe that’s isolated to LA. It’s like a cool thing to go to a Lakers game. With NFL, it’s more about the tailgate outside the stadium because, for me, inside, watching football is so boring. I feel like those sports are built more for TV-same with hockey.

 For soccer, you go in to the stadium, and it’s unlike any other sport. You’re part of something, and it’s bigger than just you. You’re part of this community. Now, with the advancement and the magnification of the internet …when you watch a game on TV, you can actually by connected. If you support Liverpool, well there’s hundreds of millions of Liverpool supporters around the world, and you can be having that same conversation with them and living, breathing, and dying with each roll of the ball. You’re celebrating with other people online, and I really feel like that has taken the sport to a whole new level. You’ve taken something that could be very local and made it global, and it’s a really a special sport just for that reason because I don’t think any other sport in the world can do that.

Q: Do you follow USL?

I do! I don’t follow it as closely as I used to when I was a player mainly because I have to pay attention to a lot of leagues around the world and I only have so much attention.

Before I joined MLS, I played in the A-league, which is equivalent to USL or NASL, I got to play 30 games in 6 months, and it was crazy and I learned so much about myself and about whether I wanted to be a player or not. It has such a vital role in the development players in our country. It gives some guys that probably don’t play a lot the chance to shine and come into their own and understand what it takes to be a starter and understand if they really even want to push on to become professionals because you have to deal with a lot of adversity. I think USL is something that has to exist. I’m a fan of it. I think there are a lot of great players in the league, and I think it’s only a matter of time before they go on to the MLS and the USMNT.

Q: As a former player, what is it that makes you either love or hate a coach?

It’s just the personality. I feel like the coaches that I blossomed under understood my personality and knew how to get the best out of me. They could challenge me and I like to be challenged. When somebody told me that I wasn't good enough, that really lit a fire under me. There are some coaches that knew how to push my buttons, and I think the crux of it is that they respected the sense of humor and personality I had.

The ones I didn't respond to where the ones that didn't care for my personality or didn't think it mattered or didn't appreciate that or just wouldn't push my buttons in the right way. I've definitely butted heads with a few coaches along the way. You learn a lot about yourself in those situations because those are the kind of coaches that don’t care what you think, don’t care how you feel. You have to adapt to them more than they adapt to you, and I think the best coaches do a little bit of both. It’s a delicate balance and I think the best coaches understand that you can’t treat everybody the same. You have to know what makes each one of your players tick and try to maximize their potential. The ones that I think are a little bit shortsighted are the ones that don’t care. They just have their own agenda. They’re going to play a certain way, and everybody’s going to fit what they think. I didn't respond very well to those guys.

Q: Do you think you’d enjoy being a referee?

No! I think they have the hardest job in the world. I don’t envy their role. It’s obviously an incredibly important role. They are not loved. If one team loses, they know that half the stadium hates them and that’s just part of the job. I don’t envy what they do. I have a lot of respect for what they do, and I understand that they make mistakes sometimes. I would probably like to publicly apologize for being so hard on them when I was a player because, stepping back, you really appreciate just how difficult their job is. They’re just trying to do the best they can, and that’s all we can ask.

Q: If you could become the manager of any club in the world tomorrow which one would you choose and why?

I would love to take on the USMNT. That’s not a club but that would be my first one. From there, it would be easy and romantic to take over a club in Europe and have that kind of money at your disposal to buy the world’s best talent. I’m sure that would be a lot of fun to be the first American to manage a big club in Europe, but the development of the game in this country is very important to me…So I would say Sporting Kansas City. I played there for eight years. They inducted me into their hall of fame- which I’m still in awe about- last season. I have a really good relationship with the owners and the fans, who I care a great deal about. Peter Vermes is in charge doing a great job, so it wouldn’t be in anyway trying to replace him, but that would be a fun spot. They built a new stadium. I didn’t get to play in it, so to manage in it would pretty neat. Also, I get to have some input on how the youth academies are shaping up and how to effect change in a positive way in this country and that’s what I’m about. With Kick TV, it’s a vehicle for me to probably be silly and have fun, but it’s also a nice platform for me to, at least from a European perspective, try to change their perception about MLS. That’s its not as bad of a league as everyone thinks it is. It’s actually difficult to have success in this league. The travel kills you and all that… Anytime I do coverage of MLS I try to shine it in a positive way. 

What are the aspects of the entertainment and art industry surrounding soccer that you enjoy the most? Who should I interview next? Let me know in the comments!

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