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Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Missing passports and bed sores

Jimmy Conrad

Appraisers,

I suppose I can attempt to talk about a variety of subjects, Jason Kreis' 100th goal (I was a couple feet away), the resurgence of Chivas USA (if you consider two ties in a row a resurgence), playing Goliath to the Minnesota Thunder's David in the U.S. Open Cup (a 3-1 upset), a behind-the-scenes look as the national team prepares to qualify for the 2006 World Cup against rival Mexico (Si se puede!),

Or

the inescapable intrigue that follows a match against one of the best clubs in the world, in one of the most famous stadiums, with some of the world's best soccer players.

"So how was it?" they inquire.

"Ah, Madrid," I reply dreamily.

But they wanted more. More details about the outcome, the atmosphere, David Beckham, the preparation, the level of play, and I was happy to oblige. Here is a loose excerpt:

Jimmy, how was the trip over to Spain?

Well, the team met in Chicago, introductions were made to players who weren't familiar with each other, and everyone shared a good laugh about Chad Marshall not being able to go because he couldn't find his passport.

It's Real Madrid in the Bernabeau. Forge one. Get an emergency one. Hide in a suitcase. Do anything but not go. I was bummed for him.

The eight-hour flight was uneventful and the only thing of note was that most of us found it hard to sleep. We left Chicago at 5 p.m. Sunday evening, got to Madrid at 8 a.m. Monday morning local time, and kickoff was Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. An interesting dilemma.

Dilemma?

Sleeping for 8 hours once my head hit the hotel pillow, waking up to eat, and then trying to go to sleep for another 8 hours for me is an interesting dilemma. Though I think we referred to them as bed sores.

So can I consider this subtle, but elaborate, explanation of your travels as an excuse for losing 5-0?

I'm not trying to be subtle or make up an excuse. I'm just trying to give a firsthand account of what transpired and how I felt about it.

Touchy, touchy. I was just trying to find a way to sneak the scoreline into the question.

The scoreline is pretty popular for anyone who wants to bash Major League Soccer and I think this result will keep them busy for awhile. But if you watched the game and valued the parameters of our situation, I think one's perspective could change. At least, I hope.

Is this why you have agreed to do this interview, to alter perception?

Actually, I'm doing this interview about the Madrid Experience to fulfill a word count for my monthly piece on ESPN.com and because my editor demanded it.

How many words do you need?

How many questions you got?

How many words do you need?

Nice. That's six more.

So what did...

To finish my thoughts from above, I think people's perception will change when they want it to, not based on anything of consequence that I have to say. Either you can see the Real Madrid game for what it is or you will make it a vehicle to orate about everything that is wrong with the state of professional soccer in the United States. Sorry I got all serious on you, your next question was going to be...?

So what did it feel like to help David Beckham off the ground when you knocked him over in the first half? You touched his hand right?

His hand was as smooth as a baby's bottom and I haven't washed mine since.

Rumor has it you exchanged jerseys with Beckham after the game. Can you confirm or deny this?

Check eBay in a couple of weeks.

Is there a discount for polite interviewers?

No.

Well then.

Don't get huffy. Just ask me the questions we agreed on.

Fine. (In an unwilling and monotone voice) Did any words pass between you and Beckham during the jersey exchange?

I told him that despite any effort I use to beautify myself, he's much better looking than I am.

His reply?

He agreed.

There were other world-class players on the field that night...

You're too kind.

...Um yeah, including a Brazilian forward who was named to the Brazilian national team at age 17; voted FIFA Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997; European Player of the Year in 1997; the MVP of the World Cup in 1998; led Brazil to World Cup victory in 2002, scoring 8 times in the tournament including both of Brazil's goals in a 2-0 victory against Germany in the final; And finally, is regularly compared to the great Pele. So what did you think about him?

Who?

Ronaldo!

Oh. He's fast.

I noticed that when he ran past you.

I like to think that he had a head start and I was going to catch him...until he cut me off.

Why not foul him then?

I don't remember okaying this line of questioning.

We'll edit this one out.

Well, after some self-reflection, I might have had an opportunity to slide in and poke the ball away but I'm not sure how much I would have got on it. And once that moment came and went, I could foul or give Matt Reis, who is capable of making big saves, a chance to block his shot. (Laughing) I guess I should have fouled him.

Clearly, Ronaldo is my favorite player and all I've gotten from you is that he's fast. Can't you reveal a little more about his tactical awareness, first touch, runs off the ball, or his finishing?

He has a little gap between his front teeth.

(Eyes rolling) I know that. I have his poster on my wall.

How old are you?

Excuse me. I HAD his poster on my wall.

This is a stellar interview.

Is there ANYTHING of substance you can relate about the Real Madrid players so the kids reading at home can gain something from your experience?

The players don't cheat the game. They work hard on both sides of the ball and do the little things to help the TEAM be successful. Whether it's Ronaldo chasing down Jeff Cunningham in the second half, Zinedine Zidane pressuring our centerbacks, or Thomas Gravesen breaking up any flow of play we could get started. Every player has their role and they put everything into it. I had a lot of respect for their work ethic and desire even though this was a game they could have coasted through.

Also, and it goes without saying, each player is technically sound and they do the simple things perfect every time. No unneccesary mistakes. And Zidane is another level beyond that. I can't imagine there being a better player in the world.

Anything else you would like to add?

I have watched many of the Madrid players on television for a number of years and always wondered how it would be to go toe-to-toe with them and now I know, on a wonderful Tuesday night in Bernabeau Stadium in front of 70,000 fans. And even though I was disappointed with the final result and the sting attached to giving up five goals, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience that I never thought I could learn in a 90 minute time span.

When did this turn into an after-school special? Do you need a tissue?

Nah. I'll just use Beckham's jersey.

So it's true?!?

Depends on your perspective.

Jimmy Conrad is a defender for the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.




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