[Q&A: JIMMY CONRAD]The former MLS and USA defender has moved into an assistant coaching role with Chivas USA since announcing his retirement last week because of post-concussion difficulties. In addition to pondering broadcast opportunities, Jimmy Conrad is anxious to aid the process of player development.
SOCCER AMERICA: The league has changed dramatically since you began your MLS career in 1999, but aside from adding teams and making rosters bigger, it has implemented player development programs and brought back the Reserve Division. There have been significant changes and new hirings made by U.S. Soccer. How do you see the future for that facet of the sport in this country?
JIMMY CONRAD:What you can sense happening, whether it’s inside looking out or outside looking in, it’s all about to change. You can feel this swell of support for the youth side. The country is so big, to get everybody on the same page is a monumental task. I applaud Claudio Reyna [U.S. Youth Soccer Technical Director] for taking it on. He’s going to need help. He’s already talked with Richie Williams and Chris Armas. I can’t think of better names to make that happen.
SA: You’re going to be a Chivas USA assistant coach and also work on the player development side. You started your own soccer camp this summer. What’s going to be the focus working with young players?
JC:We want to make sure they have fun but also realize that if you really, really want to play soccer, these are the things you need to do. No matter what, that’s what I’ve wanted to do all along to stay locked into the community where I grew up, but also with the youth soccer community. I know I’ll be working a lot with the Chivas youth academy as we re-structure and kind of re-mold what was already in place and just make it better.
SA: Chivas USA started fielding a U-19 team shortly after it started up in MLS in 2005, and several of those players have made it onto the first team. What can the club do to make improvements in its programs?
JC:We’re going to start younger, at under-9s. Our first emphasis is going to be about development and less about results. Like Claudio has been saying, it has to be about developing soccer players and less about trying to win at all costs.
SA: What advantages can, and should, MLS teams offer to elite players?
JC:Eventually, I don’t know exactly when, we’re going to pay for everything. Most activities are pay-to-play and you’re not going to be able to attract the best kids if they have to pay. And in addition to the free option, they’ll have the opportunity to work with the best coaches around and with a legitimate opportunity to play for the first team. Being around the first-team players in a professional setting, I don’t think you can better prepare guys for the real thing.
SA: Are Chivas USA and other MLS teams just getting started doing what pro teams around the world have been doing for a decades, using their resources and ex-pros to work promising players through a development system?
JC:We have a vision of greatness, to be honest, to be one of the models of how a youth academy should look around the country. It’s quite an undertaking but we have a lot of good people involved, Teddy Chronopolous and Dan Calichman as well as Greg Vanney, who’s kind of spearheading the whole thing. It’s fun to be around these guys, I’ve played against them for so long, and looked up to them. To be in the mix with them is a pretty neat experience.
We’re already talking about a couple of our U-16, U-18 players playing in a reserve game, maybe coming out to practice with the first team and get a taste of what it’s about, so they know what it looks like and feels like and tastes like. That’s kind of the drug to sell to them so they’ll do the work to become good soccer players.
It’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight but we’ll try to make it happen as fast as we can.
SA: You’ve mentioned a half-dozen guys you played with and against during your club and national team careers. A lot of people see mainly the head coaches, like Robin Fraser, or the assistants, like you and Vanney. How important is it for guys with that experience to be involved?
JC:There’s a lot of responsibility for guys in my generation, who have retired or will retire in the next few years, to stay involved in the game. We need to push the bar up a little bit to make MLS and our national team that much better. That’ll benefit everybody.
Read Part I of Ridge Mahoney's Jimmy Conrad interview, which appeared in Tuesday's SoccerAmericaDaily, HERE.