Fire's jovial Conde shows he's all business on field
Wilman Conde clearly likes to enjoy himself.
On the Fire practice field or in the locker room, he exhibits a boyish demeanor.
"He has his moments when he likes to joke around with guys," said Conde's central defense partner, C.J. Brown. "He keeps guys on edge, which is good. He has a different style compared to what everyone else is used to. He likes to do his thing, and I think people are starting to get used to it now. He's doing well."
Still, something seems different this season about Conde, 27.
The laughs aren't as frequent, but Fire fans are enjoying Conde's play more than ever. So far his fourth season with the club has been his best - and his most businesslike.
"I am still the same happy person," Conde said Wednesday through a team translator. "I have different objectives on a personal level, but I play with the same happiness."
Always a candidate for postseason league honors, if Conde can stay healthy and keep playing as he has been, he should be a lock for the MLS First XI and a candidate for Defender of the Year.
"This year has been a little bit different," Brown said. "I always said we're going to have a good year, because he showed up on the first day, which is not very normal. When I saw that - I was like, all right, this is going to be a very good year if he's going to be here on the first day. And so far it's been good."
"He's an important player because he's a leader on the field. He's improving in tactical discipline," added first-year coach Carlos de los Cobos, who studied video of last season's matches when he took over the Fire job. "I saw many matches of last season and how he is very good with the ball. He was thinking all the time of supporting the attack and sometimes he'd forget something. Now he's a very smart player, a smart person. He's understanding that it's more important to stay all the time in the right position."
Acquired in August 2007 from Colombian side Millonarios to join then-Fire coach Juan Carlos Osorio in Chicago, Conde asked out when Osorio left, a request that caused him some trouble with fans and the front office. The Fire, seeing Conde's potential, asked him to fulfill his contract. It has worked out well for both sides.
"It's been a great experience being with the team, and I hope it gets even better," Conde said.
At 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, Conde has the size and strength to match up with the biggest and best forwards MLS has to offer. His size and confidence over the ball might remind longtime Fire fans of Fire original Lubos Kubik.
"He's got a lot of ability as a center back," said Fire technical director Frank Klopas, a Kubik teammate in 1998. "He's tall, he's good in the air, he reads the game. I think he's got good feet. He plays out of the back well. The thing is it's about working every day in practice. When he does that, then obviously the results show by how he's been playing in the field."
Clearly, though, Klopas doesn't want Conde to rest on his laurels.
"He's played well," Klopas said. "I know he can play much better. ... All the players have the potential to play better, and it's just about having the right attitude and working hard every day. He's had a good attitude this year. He's working hard every day in practice and I think that translates to the game."
Maybe that's why it's been so much fun watching Conde play this season.