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The Write Stuff
Mark Bechtel
April 03, 2006
Jimmy Conrad provides punch to the Wizards' backline--and punch lines in his Internet column
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April 03, 2006

The Write Stuff

Jimmy Conrad provides punch to the Wizards' backline--and punch lines in his Internet column

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Should Jimmy Conrad play his way onto the U.S.'s World Cup roster, the team would gain a reliable defender, a solid locker-room presence and one heck of a wordsmith. Since March 2001 the Kansas City Wizards' stalwart has written Conrad's Corner, an insightful and often hilarious online column. Few things are off-limits. He's fired sarcastic barbs at MLS (for overpromoting Freddy Adu, among other things) and ranked the major annoyances facing U.S. players. At the top, just ahead of athlete's foot: Brandi Chastain.

A 29-year-old UCLA grad who majored in math, Conrad got the gig after his agent showed a 2,000-word e-mail postcard Conrad had sent in the off-season of 2000 that cataloged his issues with Poland, where he was playing on loan. "When you're writing off the cuff, you're not even thinking about it," says Conrad, the league's reigning Defender of the Year. "But when you realize people are going to read it, it's like, Whoa, big shock. But I think I've found my footing."

Whether his columns this summer carry a German dateline is yet to be determined. Two years ago Conrad was hardly a blip on the radar of national team coach Bruce Arena. In 2004, though, Conrad made his first All-Star Game, led the Wizards to the best goals-against average in the league (1.0) and helped propel Kansas City to the MLS Cup final. (The Wizards lost to D.C. United 3-2.) In January 2005, at the ripe old age of 27, Conrad got an invitation from Arena to attend his first national team camp.

It wasn't the first time it took a coach a while to warm to Conrad. No major college recruited him. He got a half scholarship to play for San Diego State only because his club coach persuaded the Aztecs to sign him sight unseen. After two seasons Conrad transferred to UCLA in 1996, where he still had to walk on. Although he helped lead the Bruins to the '97 NCAA title, he was the only senior on the team not to be drafted, so he caught on with the fledgling A-League San Diego Flash for a year before San Jose picked him up in '99. "I think you appreciate me on a different level when you can see me day in and day out," says Conrad. "There are subtleties about my game that maybe don't come out right away if you're just watching me on TV. There's more to it than playing defense; I organize, and I've got good chemistry with all of my teammates."

In Kansas City, Conrad has created a locker room Wall of Shame that contains embarrassing photos of his teammates--a bold move for a guy who once showed up at a party for the team's fans wearing pink pants and a bright red jacket. "He's a positive guy," says Wizards coach Bob Gansler. "A bright guy, good teammate, one of those guys you'd like to clone. And he's just a bitch to play against."

Conrad now has 13 national team appearances and has played every minute in five of the U.S.'s six games in 2006. He didn't help his cause in last week's 4-1 loss to Germany in Dortmund, but neither did any of the other defenders he's competing with for a roster spot.

If he doesn't make the 23-man team, Conrad will still be busy this summer. The MLS season starts this weekend, and it is one of the few major soccer leagues that will play through the World Cup. A strong defense will be needed more than ever in Kansas City: While the Wizards have enough talent to reach the MLS Cup again, their two best scoring threats, Josh Wolff (a team-high 10 goals in 2005) and Eddie Johnson (an MLS-high 12 goals in '04), who was acquired in an off-season trade with Dallas, are near-locks to be on the U.S. team in Germany. And midfielder Kerry Zavagnin is, like Conrad, on the national team bubble. "I know I'm part of the mix," says Conrad. "If I'm on the team, great. If not, I know I've done well and pushed the guys."

Wherever he ends up playing this summer, one thing is certain: You'll be able to read all about it in his own words.