Should JimmyConrad play his way onto the U.S.'s World Cup roster, the team would gain areliable 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 otherthings) and ranked the major annoyances facing U.S. players. At the top, justahead of athlete's foot: Brandi Chastain.
A 29-year-oldUCLA grad who majored in math, Conrad got the gig after his agent showed SI.coma 2,000-word e-mail postcard Conrad had sent in the off-season of 2000 thatcataloged his issues with Poland, where he was playing on loan. "Whenyou're writing off the cuff, you're not even thinking about it," saysConrad, the league's reigning Defender of the Year. "But when you realizepeople are going to read it, it's like, Whoa, big shock. But I think I've foundmy footing."
Whether hiscolumns this summer carry a German dateline is yet to be determined. Two yearsago 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 thebest goals-against average in the league (1.0) and helped propel Kansas City tothe MLS Cup final. (The Wizards lost to D.C. United 3-2.) In January 2005, atthe ripe old age of 27, Conrad got an invitation from Arena to attend his firstnational team camp.
It wasn't thefirst time it took a coach a while to warm to Conrad. No major collegerecruited him. He got a half scholarship to play for San Diego State onlybecause his club coach persuaded the Aztecs to sign him sight unseen. After twoseasons 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 onlysenior on the team not to be drafted, so he caught on with the fledglingA-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 inand day out," says Conrad. "There are subtleties about my game thatmaybe don't come out right away if you're just watching me on TV. There's moreto it than playing defense; I organize, and I've got good chemistry with all ofmy teammates."
In Kansas City,Conrad has created a locker room Wall of Shame that contains embarrassingphotos of his teammates--a bold move for a guy who once showed up at a partyfor the team's fans wearing pink pants and a bright red jacket. "He's apositive guy," says Wizards coach Bob Gansler. "A bright guy, goodteammate, one of those guys you'd like to clone. And he's just a bitch to playagainst."
Conrad now has 13national team appearances and has played every minute in five of the U.S.'s sixgames in 2006. He didn't help his cause in last week's 4-1 loss to Germany inDortmund, but neither did any of the other defenders he's competing with for aroster spot.
If he doesn'tmake the 23-man team, Conrad will still be busy this summer. The MLS seasonstarts this weekend, and it is one of the few major soccer leagues that willplay through the World Cup. A strong defense will be needed more than ever inKansas 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) andEddie Johnson (an MLS-high 12 goals in '04), who was acquired in an off-seasontrade with Dallas, are near-locks to be on the U.S. team in Germany. Andmidfielder Kerry Zavagnin is, like Conrad, on the national team bubble. "Iknow I'm part of the mix," says Conrad. "If I'm on the team, great. Ifnot, I know I've done well and pushed the guys."
Wherever he endsup playing this summer, one thing is certain: You'll be able to read all aboutit in his own words.
Last year the Galaxy finished fourth in the West yettook the title. Expect the unexpected again in '06: Wizards win. --GrantWahl
1. New England Revolution
National teamers Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman lead strong attack.
2. New York Red Bulls
Erstwhile MetroStars built on midfield vets Youri Djorkaeff and AmadoGuevara.
3. D.C. United
Driving forces Jaime Moreno, 32, and Christian Gómez, 31, start showing theirage.
4. Kansas City Wizards
Eddie Johnson meshes with Josh Wolff up front--and they peak in theplayoffs.
5. Columbus Crew
Two Chileans (Sebastiàn Rozental and Marcos Gonàlez) take over inmidfield.
6. Chicago Fire
Nine-game road trip to start season will make life tough for talentedyoungsters.
1. Los Angeles Galaxy
With frontline of Landon Donovan and Herculez Gómez, L.A. makes the Cup.
2. Chivas USA
L.A.'s other team features Mexican forwards Francisco Palencia and Juan PabloGarcía.
3. Houston Dynamo
Dwayne De Rosario has turned from ball hog into budding star.
4. FC Dallas
Can Carlos Ruiz put his Carlos-being-Carlos routine behind him and focus?
5. Real Salt Lake
New Realistas Jeff Cunningham and Chris Klein provide more pop, but D is workin progress.
6. Colorado Rapids
Coach Fernando Clavijo took a risk bringing on Clint Mathis. It won't payoff.
Stellar work in K.C. has earned Conrad a long look from the U.S.team.