Sporting Kansas City set to honor Jimmy Conrad

07/31/2014 3:50 PM

08/01/2014 7:02 PM

Jimmy Conrad’s first tour of Sporting Park came directly from the boss.

Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman guided the former Kansas City Wizards defender through the stadium before it ever hosted its first game. Along the way, Conrad interrupted Heineman with a question.

“Where’s my statue going to go?” he joked.

There’s no statue of the former MLS defender of the year. But he is set to receive the club’s highest honor.

Conrad will be inducted into the hall of honor Friday as part of this year’s Sporting Legends class, along with Peter Vermes and the late Lamar Hunt. The trio will be honored during halftime of Sporting Kansas City’s match with Philadelphia.

“You never have that expectation as a player to be considered a legend with your team,” Conrad said in a phone interview with The Star. “You just go out there and play while trying to represent yourself, the team, the fans and the city the best way you know how. When the dust settles, if those accolades come your way, it’s obviously very special.”

Many other accolades coincided with his playing career. There were six MLS All-Star selections and a four-year reign as the team’s captain. Conrad scored 17 goals with the Wizards, the most of any defender in team history. He was part of the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship team, the same squad that reached the MLS Cup final.

None of it fit the initial expectation. Conrad said his wife and mom both cried when they learned San Jose had traded his rights to Kansas City in 2003.

“It just seemed like a foreign country,” Conrad said. “We just didn’t know what we were walking into. But I can now say after eight years, we would consider moving back there and living there. We love it so much.”

Conrad, 37, now lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

Well, kind of. He actually doesn’t have much of a permanent residence.

He recently finished a seven-week traveling excursion that included a monthlong stay in Brazil for the World Cup. The trips totaled more than 24,000 miles.

It was more work than play — though that’s often a blurred line with Conrad.

He went to nine World Cup matches as part of his job with KickTV, a soccer-driven YouTube channel that has 890,000 subscribers. The channel also sent him to international soccer meccas, where he dissected the foundations of some of the game’s best rivalries.

Conrad has emerged as the face of the station, and his vibrant, comedic and sometimes flippant tone offers a unique connection with viewers.

“I’m living the dream,” he said. “I couldn’t have fallen into a better gig.”

The job led him back to Kansas City for the MLS All-Star Game last summer. When he took the stage at the Power & Light District for the week’s festivities, the crowd chanted his name.

He returned to Kansas City in December to watch the MLS Cup final, and he rushed the field after Sporting KC clinched a penalty-kick victory against Real Salt Lake.

Conrad spoke at length about the environment that day — and the difference in the city’s soccer passion since he retired from the game in 2011. His tenure with the Wizards spanned 2003-10.

“It’s almost night and day,” he said. “When this ownership group came in and took over, they did a great job establishing the team and giving it an identity. They followed through on their promise, and that was refreshing. I’m proud to be a part of it, whether I played in that stadium or not.”

Even after the rebrand, Conrad remains a favorite among the Kansas City fans.

In his first encounter with Wizards fans, Conrad wore pink slacks and a bright red jacket — just to garner a reaction.

Conrad will have his wife and daughters join him on the field during halftime Friday, and he expects they will put a halt to the pink pants.

“I might be playing this one straight,” he said. “I know there’s always an expectation for me to do something crazy. I might buck the trend there.”

His outfit may change Friday. But his propensity to show his emotions likely won’t

“When the moment comes Friday, I’m not going to hide from it. If I feel like tearing up, then I’m going to tear up,” Conrad said. “I laid it on the line for eight years for this team. I’m proud of what I accomplished. I’m not going to hold it in now.”

To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SamMcDowell11.

Philadelphia at Sporting Kansas City

WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Sporting Park

TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Network; WHB (810 AM)

ABOUT PHILADELPHIA (5-8-8): A three-game unbeaten streak has the Union sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The club has lost only once in five games under interim coach Jim Curtin.

ABOUT SPORTING KC (11-5-5): Riding a seven-match unbeaten streak, Sporting KC will play without its captain Friday. Matt Besler is serving a one-game suspension after being ejected for the first time in his career last weekend in Toronto. The defensive line will also likely be without Seth Sinovic, who is doubtful with a groin injury. ... Midfielder Paulo Nagamura will miss his fifth straight match with an ankle sprain. ... Defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum has joined the Kenyan national team, meaning Jorge Claros will likely make his MLS debut in place of Olum.

BOTTOM LINE: In what manager Peter Vermes called his club’s worst performance of the season, Sporting KC dropped a 2-1 result to Philadelphia in May. Asked Thursday if he reminded his team of that result, Vermes responded: “I don’t need to. They absolutely know.”

PREDICTION: Sporting KC 2, Philadelphia 0

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