By Ridge Mahoney
Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad has agreed to terms of a four-year deal to stay in MLS after drawing some interest from foreign teams.
Swedish club Lillestrom FC tendered a transfer offer of $550,000 last month that was rejected by the league, and agent Lyle Yorks said there was also interest from a few Bundesliga clubs but Conrad, who just turned 30, has elected to stay in MLS. Yorks didn't reveal financial details of the contract; Conrad earned a base salary of 125,000 last season.
''He's excited about the new direction in Kansas City,'' said Yorks. ''There's new ownership and a new coach in Curt Onalfo. They know each other from their time together with the national team, so he's looking forward to it.''
Conrad has been in MLS since 1999 and his eight seasons have been evenly split between San Jose and Kansas City. He broke into the national team less than two years ago, yet played two games in the 2006 World Cup and has already accumulated 18 caps.
In the first two games of 2007, he captained the Americans in a 3-1 defeat of Denmark and scored the first goal in a 2-0 victory over Mexico, remarkable achievements for a guy who had to battle his way onto the roster of the A-League San Diego Flash despite helping UCLA win the 1997 Division I title.
''I think about those days a lot, actually,'' he says. ''It keeps me humble and keeps me hungry.''
The interest from abroad, perhaps, came a couple of years too late, but by his own admission, he's a late bloomer and so doesn't hold the appeal as a younger World Cup veteran would.
''For any American player, when there's interest from overseas, you have to pay attention and be willing to listen to what they have to offer,'' said Conrad Monday night from Florida, where the Wizards are about to wrap up a phase of their preseason training. ''That's no disrespect to MLS, or what MLS offered me, which is a great deal, in terms of the opportunity to play in my own country and not have to travel abroad.
''You always like to entertain the idea of playing with more on the line. Over in Europe, with any club, every game matters. Being able to play in those circumstances would be just different to what it is here. That adds to the appeal, being able to play under the bright lights with all that pressure, game in and game out. I love to play for the national team because each game has that intensity and that kind of pressure on it. It's just a matter of time before MLS can get there.''
A new ownership group in Kansas City, led by Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, and the hiring of former U.S. assistant coach Onalfo and technical director Peter Vermes affected Conrad's decision to stay in the league. Kansas City has missed the playoffs the last two seasons after losing to D.C. United, 3-2, in MLS Cup 2004. More than two years of rumored moves and franchise uncertainty followed until OnGoal LLC stepped in.
''Myself and a few of the veterans, I have to admit, were a bit skeptical when the new owners came in and laid out exactly what they wanted to do,'' he said. ''But everything they said they were going to do, they've done. I know the Wizards had a lot of issues to take care of with the new ownership group and I'm glad I was one of their concerns. I think we have a good team and I think we're going to do some damage this year.''