You know how sometimes you look back at a period of your life and only in retrospect realize how good you had it?
That’s not how it was for Sporting Kansas City fans when defender Jimmy Conrad played here. I thought of that when I heard that Conrad retired from soccer.
He played 13 seasons in Major League Soccer, but the bulk of it was here.
During his eight seasons in Kansas City (2003-10), Conrad won four MLS Best XI honors, was the MLS Defender of the Year in 2005 and helped KC win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2004, the same year the team advanced to MLS Cup.
In 2006, Conrad made the U.S. national team for the World Cup in Germany and appeared in two games, which included a start against Ghana. Not bad for a guy who walked on at UCLA, helped the Bruins win a national championship and then was the only senior not to get drafted by an MLS team – he started his pro career in the A-League.
But equally impressive was Conrad’s off-the-field resume. Through Facebook and Twitter he helped generate support that got funding for a park to be refurbished here in Kansas City, and he was known for his work with autistic kids and the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, which aims to reduce malaria in Africa.
Conrad also worked closely with the Child Protection Center, whose mission is to respect the child and protect their voice throughout the investigation of abuse.
These are all reasons why he shared the 2009 MLS Humanitarian of the Year award.
“He’s an unsung hero in many ways,” said Sarah Guthrie, Development Manager at the Child Protection Center. “He’s unique in a really good way.
“Not only did he really love his sport. You could tell that by watching him play, and I happen to be a soccer fan, so I watched him play a lot. But I think he really understood that when you are a sports figure, you are a role model, and he really worked to be the best role model he could be on and off the pitch.”
Conrad also was a great spokesman for the game of soccer here and across the country. He provided a unique perspective and style in his writings for ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
Those who meet Conrad take an instant liking to him because of his humor and his down-to-earth manner.
He was a fan favorite and a man of integrity. I never heard him throw a teammate under the bus following a defeat, he never gave away team secrets (as much as I tried to get him to do so through the years), and he didn’t unfairly criticize Sporting when it let him go.
How upright was Conrad? Think back to the end of last year when it was clear that Sporting was not going to bring him back. He was still asked to come to the Power & Light District for the public unveiling of the franchise’s new name.
Conrad stood on the stage in a uniform he knew he’d never wear in a game.
Why? I believe he knew it was good for the game of soccer in Kansas City, and he wants to see the sport grow. Although he never played at Livestrong Sporting Park, he was thrilled that it was built.
So, it’s sad to know that Conrad is stepping away from the game. But it’s a good thing, because he suffered too many concussions over the years to ignore that it could have a lasting effect on his life. This is good news for his wife Lyndsey (who also worked tirelessly for the Child Protection Center) and their two daughters.
I’m happy that Conrad will still be in the game, accepting a role as an assistant coach at Chivas USA.
I’m also happy that I had the chance to watch Conrad play in his prime and to see all the good he did on and off the field in Kansas City.
When Conrad departed for his native California last year, there is no doubt that he left Kansas City a better place than when he first arrived.
Many here will always have a place in their heart for Jimmy Conrad. I know I do.
| Pete Grathoff, firstname.lastname@example.org