Photo above by: Ryan Maquiñana
Former U.S. Men’s National Team star and soccer icon, Jimmy Conrad, has recently landed in San Francisco after being named San Francisco Glens SC Technical Director/Associate Head Coach. He joins the second-year USL League Two (USL2) team after an illustrious professional soccer career and is now hoping to make some big waves through all levels of American soccer.
From AYSO, lower league soccer to pick- up soccer – Conrad hopes to improve all aspects of the game. It is a battle that he hopes to take on from many fronts and with his latest professional appointment, he’s making big strides in the right direction.
To greater understand his outlook on the game we have to go back to 1983 in Arcadia, CA. A young Jimmy Conrad would be found clad in an AYSO jersey kicking the ball around with the Blues Brothers U6 team from Region 98 – Temple City. This very first team, where he averaged three wonder goals a game, is where his love for the sport began.
“It has been downhill ever since then, peaked at age 6,” chuckles Conrad. “Played about 5 years total [AYSO]. It was a great experience and I still have friends from that team that are still my friends today. It was amazing, it was a great program and it was what I was looking for at that time as a kid.”
His love for soccer was sparked aflame and from then he continued to trudge up the ranks of American soccer. After two years at San Diego State University, he risked it all, left a secure starting spot and made the move to UCLA after being offered only one week to prove that he could hang with one of the top teams in college soccer. Conrad made the cut and became 1 of 3 players to ever walk on to UCLA men’s team (Cobi Jones, Jimmy Conrad, Benny Feilhaber). This conquered risk would lead to much success, but the vision of success was hard to imagine just yet.
These feats did not come without struggle or perseverance. Even after being a member of the esteemed 1997 NCAA UCLA Championship team coached by the late, renowned coach Sigi Schmid (AYSO), Conrad did not have MLS teams eager to acquire his talents just yet. So he took his talents to the now-defunct San Diego Flash of the lower tier A-League – a professional men’s soccer league which featured teams from the United States and Canada, only getting paid a couple hundred dollars a month. He’s seen it all, and been through it all, making his soccer experience priceless. This would lead to a rap sheet that includes being a 13-year Major League Soccer veteran, four-time MLS Best XI, 2005 MLS Defender of the Year and 28 caps with the United States Men’s National Team. Legendary accolades.
Even with these esteemed notes to his name, Conrad embraces humility and knows he can be an asset at all levels in terms of development. He touches back to his AYSO roots and sheds the ego just like the countless parents and volunteers that drive AYSO.
“There’s something really valuable in the idea of volunteers and parents giving themselves
to this team concept, shedding ego and doing all they can to make sure these kids do better,” says Conrad.
He’s always found ways to give himself back to his roots– speaking at a Brooklyn AYSO volunteer dinner during his time in New York, and showing support for one of AYSO’s Giving Tuesday campaigns, exclaiming via Twitter: “If you want another #Conradinho to be developed, then please donate to the place where I got my start: @AYSO_Soccer!”
With that mentality in hand, Conrad goes even lower than the lower leagues of American soccer, past the grassroots youth soccer programs, down to the simplest form of the beautiful game where all the magic happens – pick-up soccer.
From Portland to San Francisco, San Diego to LA, and London to Australia and beyond – Conrad has been on a pick-up game road trip spreading his mission to all those that wish to play. He makes a call to action via social media in many of the major cities that he visits for impromptu pick-up games, with some events reaching over 300 players.
“When people come out, I encourage them to start their own pick-up games. This is something that the game needs in general because we can argue that we have gone a little bit too hard with over-coaching in this country and don’t give our players enough freedom,” says Conrad. “That way they can actually apply what they’re being coached in a game where they’re not being coached.”
“It’s an incredible phenomenon, and a testament to the power of the sport and how it brings people together. I feel like there’s a need and a desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself so when you create these pick-up games you’re creating this positive energy – to have some fun, meet other people, compete and do it in a really respectful way,” says Conrad.
It is a testament to the power of the sport of soccer and the profound influence the love of the game can have on the communities Conrad visits. A strong believer in positive energy being a direct result of playing soccer with others, he is working towards placing that energy into every sector of the sport.
Known for his charisma and good cheer, he hopes to continue his urgent mission, to raise the level of soccer in the United States, no matter where he goes. He doesn’t seek to simply just answer the questions of where things went wrong with the sport but instead is working to make things better, in his own special way.
“You give your opinion on how they should do this and how they should do that so you’re always pointing away from yourself as opposed to ‘I actually want this to get better, I am going to point at myself and ask how can I get involved and give back,” says Conrad.
His missions are far from being accomplished but there is sure to be some improvement in the right direction for the overall sport. His experience is extremely valuable to everyone, especially the estimated 3 million kids currently playing in soccer in the US and Conrad isn’t slowing down any time soon.
“Being involved with AYSO is one of those things – the new job that I took with the Glens is another, starting pick-up games is another, I try and go out to practice with any of the youth clubs that I’m currently around. I try to go speak with as many people as possible. You just don’t know what kind of advice is going to impact a certain player at a certain time.”
As Technical Director/Associate Head Coach, Conrad has an opportunity to apply his plethora of experience to the developmental soccer system that is longing for some more marquee knowledge and know-how.
“I just try and go out there and share my experiences with the hope that these players will be 10 times the player that I am,” says Conrad.
Overall, it seems SF Glens have acquired the ideal leader for the next generation of players. With their season now in full swing, Jimmy Conrad will prove to them why he’s the perfect man to complete the mission of raising the game in America.