The first thing you notice about Jimmy Conrad is his energy. He’s oozing with it to the point that it seems to seep through his skin and out into the air. Even as he stands on a hot turf field with the sun beating down on him doing the fifth take of an on-camera intro “just to make sure we got it,” Conrad is selling the performance, gesticulating as he speaks with forceful gusto.
That energy has always defined Conrad. It’s what made him a star defender both in the MLS and on the U.S. Men’s National Team between 1999 and 2011, and it’s been crucial as he’s become a significant social media influencer. His vigor comes through on the vlogs and soccer analysis videos he posts on his YouTube account, which has over 130,000 subscribers. His vibrancy is a hit with kids, as families will find out seeing him at the Target Village from Tuesday through Thursday at Target USA CUP.
“I think enthusiasm and passion for anything you’re doing makes a big difference, whether it’s on social media or just in life,” Conrad said later. “So I try to bring that to anything I do.”
That vivacity has been there since the beginning for Conrad, which is good because it wasn’t an easy road to get here. Conrad was born in Arcadia, Calif., and attended a public high school. That meant he didn’t have a special training academy like many naturally talented soccer players do, so he wasn’t recruited out of high school. After walking on at San Diego State University, Conrad transferred to do the same at UCLA, which was coached by school legend Sigi Schmidt.
“He said ‘I guess we can bring you on, I don’t know anything about you. I’ll give you one week,’” Conrad said. “I’m like ‘I played 50 Division I games,’ and he said ‘I’ll give you one week.’”
Conrad got his chance to start as an injury replacement during UCLA’s 1997 championship season. However, he was the only one of five seniors on the team to not be drafted, so he signed with the San Diego Flash of the A-League. He signed with the San Jose Clash of the MLS in 1999, which rebranded to become the Earthquakes. He was part of San Jose’s 2001 championship team before being traded to the Kansas City Wizards in. In 2004, Conrad led a stingy defense that helped the Wizards win the U.S. Open Cup and appear in the MLS Cup Final. He won Defender of the Year in 2005 and played for the U.S. in the 2006 World Cup.
Conrad laid the work for his media career during his playing days. He wrote for ESPN and Sports Illustrated and also had a weekly radio show while playing in Kansas City. Going on after losses gave him his first lesson in how tough a media career can be.
“How do you acknowledge and respect them and their disappointment and frustration – because we share it as players – but also be respectful that you’re not throwing anyone under the bus,” he said. “That was really good for my development.”
Conrad retired in August 2011 due to repeated sustained concussions. The sudden change hit him hard; he called his wife and was only able to cry, causing her to think someone in his family had died.
“But something died, right? My career is over,” Conrad said. “And something that you learn quite quickly is that everyone knows you as this person. Your family, your best friends; you’ve always been a professional athlete, you’ve always been the guy that was better at certain things than everyone else … and when that’s taken away, you don’t know what to do.
“You have to start from the bottom again, and that’s the hardest thing to accept. I walked around going ‘Oh man! I was a five-time MLS All-Star, defender of the year, I played in a World Cup, the jobs are just going to be coming out, let’s go.’ But then you realize quickly that people don’t care about that because it’s not applicable to what they need.”
So Conrad had to struggle again. He did get some TV opportunities but opted to go the non-traditional route instead when he became the face of the KickTV YouTube channel. The channel rose to over a million subscribers in five years before the it was purchased.
“When KickTV and I separated I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore, I just wanted to work with people,” Conrad said. “That mindset has allowed me to embrace the opportunities I get, like working with Target.”
So now Conrad is living a life that he feels is true to himself, which is why he enjoys the versatility of social media. He posts everything from travel vlogs to FIFA gameplay and often hosts pickup soccer games to get kids playing. In his eyes, the opportunities are endless.
“I think what I love most about what I do is I have a blank canvas every time I wake up,” he said. “What am I going to make today? What do I want to talk about? I can’t emphasize enough how cool that is.”