Thursday, August 18, 2011
CHIVAS USA: A most entertaining 'wake'
By Scott French
CARSON -- “This is a funeral, of course. You guys are at the wake of my career. So I appreciate you guys coming. I hope you're enjoying the food at the back.”
With that, Jimmy Conrad was off and roaring in the most entertaining news conference we've seen at Home Depot Center -- and we've seen plenty.
The Chivas USA defender had plenty to say during his retirement announcement Thursday:
On whether there is a sense of relief that the battle to come back is over: “I think the biggest relief aspect to it is that I can now tell everybody what's happening, and there's been some closure, and that I can get on with my modeling career. ... Did I say that out loud? Sorry.
“There's some days I'd go in to Robin [Fraser, the Goats' head coach], I'd be like, 'I really want to play today.' And he's like, 'How's your head doing?' 'Yeah, maybe I still do have a headache, but I really want to play today.' And he's like, 'Nah, we're not going to let you play.' Without their guidance throughout this and really pulling the reins on me and making sure I'm making a good, smart decision -- day in and day out, because your emotion does take over -- I don't know if I would have been able to get through it.”
On seeking advice from players who retired because of concussions, such as former New England star striker Taylor Twellman, now an analyst for ESPN's soccer coverage: “I have a good relationship with Taylor. Sometimes, it's hard to navigate through the waters of his ADD. But I did that. I tried. I tried to get something substantial from him, some substance. ... I'm sure you're going to write that one up. It will be fun to apologize to him for that.”
On the secret to his success: “I don't know if there are any shortcuts. When I coach kids or any time I'm involved with kids, or if I'm running my own camps or whatever, I let them know that there's no magic pill you can take. Nothing I say is magically going to make you better. If you're willing to put the work in, then you're going to reap the rewards. It's that simple.
“I mean, all these parents out there want all this stuff, they want it to happen right away, and it just doesn't work that way. Sometimes it has to simmer before it gets to where you have to go.
“For me, I didn't get my first cap with the national team until I was 28. 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?' I thought I put together a couple of good seasons, and he still just glossed me over, never really considered me. ... But now we're best friends. It's all good.
“I think a lot of [the drive] comes from within. Because every time somebody said no to me, I took it as a challenge as opposed to putting my head down and feeling sorry for myself. Not to say I didn't have those moments, but ... I mean, who are you to tell me what I can or can't do? You kn?
“I look at some coaches I played for in the past, who had a physique that wasn't athletic, you know, and you wonder: Who are you to tell me I'm slow. Slow? You can barely kick the ball, and you're telling me what to do?”
On who that coach might be: “You guys can fill in the blanks there.”
On whether he means Sigi Schmid, his coach at UCLA: “I did not say any name whatsoever. I make no claims of any names. ... I played for a lot of coaches.”
On whether he's heard from officials with Kansas City, with which he spent the bulk of his career: “Like, a statue [outside their stadium]? Are you asking about a statue? I'm working on that. It would be nice -- I'm just throwing that out.”
On so many teammates in attendance, most rare: “I guilt-tripped them into coming.”
On the high points of his career: “Obviously, just being named to the 2006 World Cup roster was a big deal. I remember, they had this chart of 30 pundits that picked the roster, and only [former U.S. defender] Marcelo Balboa picked me. Out of 30. So that was pretty cool, to know that there was at least one person out there who thought I was worth the salt.
“So when I got to be on the team, that was an incredible honor. And then you think that was just enough, that it would be cool just to be on the team. And then you get there, and you're slaving away at the pre-[Cup] camp, and you're thinking, it would be kind of cool to play -- you know, this is a lot of work. And so I got to play, and that was an amazing experience.
“I remember they had a video of [late, beloved coach] Clive Charles that we'd watched prior to going, and he said just to take a moment when you're on the field to take a look around, look at the crowd, smell the grass, and I did that. I remembered that that when I got on the field against Italy, and I did that. I can still remember how fresh and vivid that memory is in my mind because I took that moment. ...
“[I looked at the World Cup action as] just like a glorified men's league game. That's how I had to rationalize it not to be overwhelmed by the moment. That might not make any sense to anybody, but that's how I stayed calm in the moment.
“So it was a pretty neat experience, and then about six months later, I scored my only goal for the national team [in a 2-1 victory in Arizona] against Mexico. That was a pretty big deal. I was pretty excited about that.
“And then there was in 2008 the All-Star Game in Toronto, and on the team was David Beckham, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and a number of guys, including Shalrie Joseph, who was the captain of the New England Revolution. And Stevie Nicol [New England's coach, in charge of the All-Star team] made me the captain of the team.
“I always thought that was a pretty cool gesture on his part, and something I'll always remember. This has nothing to do with the game or anything like that, it's just he had a lot of respect for who I am and what I'm all about. That's probably the one thing that stands out to me. He could have chosen 10 other guys, but he went with me.”
On the best player he ever went up against: “[I was part of an MLS All-Star team and] we played against Real Madrid. We went over there and got smashed, 5-0, in '05. Played in the Bernabeu, and it was amazing experience. I learned more in those 90 minutes than probably in any other game I've ever played in. 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 ... I thought 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 onto my throat to then 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 so he could score a goal.
“He didn't end up scoring on that play, but I had a lot of respect for him for still trying to find an advantage even though he already had one, and how you can do that around the game. I swear I learned a ton. I felt I became a much better player those 90 minutes, even though it was embarrassment to walk off the field, 5-0.”
On coaching young players: “I think I have a lot to offer. I take a great deal of pride in brainwashing America's youth.
“If we can create kids that have an understanding of what it takes, I'm sure there will be a lot more talented kids along the way. And hope there are [with more to their games] than I had to offer.
“But I think there's a lot of subtleties about the game that I think I understand and have a good grasp on, and if I can pass those along -- especially [to players] at a young age -- and by the time they get up here to the first team, then Robin and Greg [Vanney, Fraser's top assistant] and the rest of the staff don't have to worry about it. It's just one less thing that's on their plate to have to figure out.
“That would be my main goal, to make sure we're creating kids who are ready to be professionals, whether it's at 16, 17, 18. There also are some late-bloomers. I obviously have a special place in my heart for late-bloomers, as I am one. ... We want to make sure the kids are moving in the right direction, learning the right things, and embracing what we're all about here at Chivas USA.”
On how emotional a day it was: “I was a little more nervous about it than I had anticipated. It helps to read a statement, even though I feel like I butchered the sentences and all my jokes. I made it sound like one run-on sentence. But I got out what I wanted to say.
“I purposefully left my family at home. Both my girls are in daycare now, or preschool, and to take them out would be a hassle, and I have to go home to them at the end of the day when they're tired and cranky, so I think it was probably in the best interest [to leave them home].
“My mom and dad wanted to come, but it just added more emotional weight to this than I wanted to give it. Obviously, I care deeply about this sport and everything I've done in it, but I didn't want to let anybody know how much I care. So I thought it would be best just to leave them home, let them get on with the normal day, and when I come home I'm just dad or son or brother or whatever.”
On what he'll take from his brief Chivas USA experience: “I think the biggest thing I'll take out of it is knowing the club is in good hands, and for the first time in a long time I have a lot of hope where this sport is going in this country. I think these guys [Fraser and Vanney] get it, they're smart, and I'm glad they're in charge because ... it's time for a new breath of fresh air, and I think these are the guys to do it.
“I assume once this team starts having consistent success, which is just a matter of time, that the people on the staff will then spread their wings and find jobs in other places, and that's a good thing. The more people we can have involved with this culture, creating other cultures in other markets, the better this league is going to be and, ultimately, the better our national team is going to be.
“It's really exciting to be a part of and to kind of be on the ground floor, to see it from the beginning, and hopefully I can be part of it in some capacity moving forward.”
On his best position in that: “I think I'd be a great coach. I don't know what my teammates would say. ... I've got a lot to say. Whether my team would want to listen to me is something different.”
On how he'd like to be remembered: “Robin I think said it best: a story of determination. That I decided what I wanted to do early on and I wasn't going to let anybody tell me that I couldn't do it. I heard a lot of nos and that I wasn't good enough and I was slow -- I think those still follow me around -- and here I am 13 years later with a lot of awesome accomplishments, and I have a lot to be proud of.
“And I'm going to take that same kind of mindset and attitude, because I don't know any different, to whatever I do next.”