After the GameMay 17, 2019

Catching Up With Dan Kennedy: Part One

Dan Kennedy grew up in Orange County, California, where the year-round good weather lends itself to long days spent on the soccer field. For Kennedy, the game was a part of his life from the very beginning. His dad coached his sister’s youth club, meaning that the then two year-old Dan was always tagging along to the field.

Soccer wasn’t the only sport in Kennedy’s life, however. The goalkeeper could also be found on the basketball court, and split time between the two games until he and his parents realized it was time for him to make a choice. In the end, Kennedy decided to pursue soccer, taking the first step in a journey that would lead him to the MLS, South America, and back again.

Kennedy spoke with the PA about the different paths he travelled through his career, his time as an Executive Board member and finding a career he's passionate about away from the game. 

You were a two sport athlete growing up, how did you come to the decision to focus only on soccer?

"My first love in sports was basketball. I had these two competing club careers in basketball and soccer. Early on, I was playing at a higher level in basketball, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be very tall. Basketball is a beautiful cross-training tool for goalkeeping actually, and ended up being complementary to my development as a goalkeeper.

The advantage I had as a young kid was that my dad ended up connecting with Zak Abdel, who’s now the goalkeeper coach for LAFC. Until I was 16, I was able to train with one of the best youth goalkeeper coaches in the country twice a week in my backyard. I’m of the mindset that natural talent is a thing, but I’m not sure I was a kid that was all that talented naturally. However, I was a kid that loved to train and work hard and play sports. I had a lot of great development just because of my willingness to work.

In high school it was clear that I needed to decide between basketball or soccer and the conversation was actually pretty clear. My dad and I realized that I would have a nice high school basketball career, but probably wouldn’t be able to play Division I. Meanwhile, I was already playing up in soccer and we thought I had a chance to go on to play in college."

The only rule I’ve ever used in my career is go where you play. Period."

Like he and his father had predicted, Kennedy went on to commit to play Division I soccer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The decision was a simple one, as the UCSB coach made it clear that he would get playing time as a freshman, a rarity for most goalkeepers.

In 2001, Kennedy joined a UCSB program that until then had never made the NCAA tournament. After being passed up for a bid despite winning their division his freshman season, the Gauchos played with a “chip on their shoulder” and made the tournament the next three straight years, advancing all the way to the final in 2004.

After finishing his time at UCSB, Kennedy went on to be selected in the 4th round of the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft by Chivas USA. However, his path to an MLS first team would not be so clear cut.

You were drafted, but ended up ultimately playing in South America. Can you walk us through how that played out?

"I was drafted by Chivas USA and Thomas Rongen told me that there wasn’t a space for me on the team. With the infrastructure that’s set up now, my journey would have been far more simple to make it to the first team. In 2005, the USL teams were not affiliates of MLS teams, so it was just disjointed.

I was left grabbing at straws and ultimately went to play in Puerto Rico for two years. I had a really good rookie season and actually won the rookie of the year award. I wanted to make the jump to MLS, but there just wasn’t an opportunity there. After I saw out my contract, I went on trial with a bunch of clubs, but everybody passed. So, it was either my career was over or I went somewhere foreign. That’s when I made the choice to go to South America.

The only rule I’ve ever used in my career is go where you play. Period. There was a team in Chile that needed a goalkeeper and told my agent that I would play. I didn’t even care what I was being paid, I was just like ‘let’s go.’ I put myself in the mindset that I had no other alternative and the only way for me to succeed was to go and accept the terms in front of me and make the most of it.  That lead me to Municipal Iquique in the North of Chile. It was a great experience and opportunity, but it was not easy. I really grew up there as a person and a player."

Meanwhile, stateside, Kennedy’s childhood goalie coach had moved on to become the goalkeeper coach at Chivas USA. With a vote of confidence from Abdel, Kennedy signed with the club to serve as the second goalkeeper behind Brad Guzan, kicking off his long-awaited MLS career.

Chivas USA went through some very public ups and downs. As a player, how did you stay focused and learn to block out that noise?

"At the time in 2008, Chivas USA was good. It was a really good team with a lot of names that are still very influential in MLS today. It was a great environment to come into and to be mentored by those players, who are still some of my great friends today. I was with the club from 2008-2014. I took the job opportunity and just ran with it and I ended up playing more games for them than any other player.

People within the circle know the story of Chivas USA and the tricky times that we had there with the ownership. But, I was still finding individual success in an environment that wasn’t easy to find success in. I look back on it now and realize that we had great guys in that locker room and we really leaned upon each other. Sometimes we would go into games just knowing we were up against it because we didn’t have the players to go out and really compete in the league. That was just the reality of it. But, even when we would end up losing, we knew when we walked back in the locker room that we had given it everything." 

After Chivas USA disbanded, Kennedy faced a crossroads. He had an opportunity to play in Dallas, but his wife had forged a career in southern California. He didn’t want to ask the person who had already sacrificed so much for his profession to give up her job for him. Before Kennedy made his retirement official however, an extension from his wife’s work came through, and he agreed to terms with Dallas. 

Things didn't go exactly to plan, as Kennedy was sidelined with a knee injury partway through his first season in Dallas. That offseason, the club approached him about his future. Kennedy applauds the Dallas front office for allowing him to be involved in discussions surrounding his contract, which ultimately led to a trade to the club he supported as a kid, the LA Galaxy. 

How did you know it was time to retire? How difficult was that decision?

"As a player for the Galaxy, I was injured more than I was fit. That’s I guess the reality of how most careers end. They don’t all end riding off into the sunset lifting a championship trophy. I was 35 and the time had come where it was a pretty simple decision to choose the best long-term solution for my family.

When I retired, I joined the Galaxy’s front office in the programming department, which handles camps, clinics and tryouts. But, the nice thing about that department is they work with every facet of the business. They work with sponsorship, ticket sales and the foundation, so you get exposure to every department of the front office. That’s why that position made sense for me as I was wrapping up my playing career and simultaneously going to business school. After I finished school in May of 2018, I realized there wasn’t a growth opportunity with the Galaxy that I was excited about, so I decided to move on."

How did you figure out what you were interested in off the field and plan for a career after the game?

"While I was playing, aside from the PA, all I was doing was investing in real estate, that was my investment and growth strategy. Buy a single family home and get a renter in there that will generate cash flow. It was that simple. I wanted to go to business school because I saw two ways forward in my career. In the soccer world, I would broadcast or join a front office and try to run a team. If I didn’t join a front office, I would broadcast and be a real estate investor. So I was very strategic in why I was going to business school. I felt like in order to do whatever I was going to do when I was done playing I needed to sharpen the pencil and get an edge on the education piece.

I was far more confident about my future in the real estate field than if I was to go and try to find a job within the game. To be honest, I couldn’t find a job in MLS that I wanted and that was a fit. So, that’s really what lead me to make the jump to make this my full time job."

Education is one of the healthiest distractions that you can have as a professional athlete."

Now you are operating your own commercial real estate investment business, what led up to you making that leap?

"Since I was at UCSB I had wanted to work in real estate. I wanted to create wealth through investing in properties. I started with single family homes in 2010, but realized that the best way for me to scale it is to buy commercial real estate assets. Along with my business partner Matt Shamus, who has also been one of my friends more than 13 years, I started Driven Capital Partners.

I’m essentially doing the same thing I was doing years ago, but now instead of single residential family homes, we’re buying larger higher quality commercial assets. Whether it’s an apartment complex, office space, mobile home park or even storage units. All we’re looking for is opportunities to put money into an investment that will generate a consistent return over a period of time.

The reality is that every property has its own team, it’s its own business. You have the property manager, then the physical asset, then you have the tenant. My business partner and I manage all three of those things for each property. From that management, the communication stream then goes back to the investor. We allow investors to own a commercial real estate asset that they wouldn’t get to purchase on their own, with the added bonus that they don’t really have to do much beyond that. We manage the property, we get the loan, we source the investment. All they do is invest and then ultimately they are able to reap the financial benefits of their investment."

What advice do you have for guys on pursuing their education and off-field passions while they are playing, or even in retirement?

"The reality is that education is probably one of the healthiest distractions that you can have as a professional athlete. It’s a very healthy distraction compared to some of the things that I saw as a player. I would empower guys to go and further their education. There’s nothing better you can do with your downtime, which you have a lot of as a professional athlete.

It’s about maximizing the time you have in front of you. As a player you have so much downtime and you get so caught up in resting and not wanting to overextend yourself. But, if the difference is having nothing planned in the afternoons versus trying to build a business or go learn something, I would say go learn something rather than having an empty afternoon to fill.

There’s a certain complexity that a professional athlete faces and it’s that your career ends and you’re young. The other reality is that in MLS right now the majority of players are not going to make enough money to never work again. Why I really like what I’m doing is because I see a path forward to retirement. It's about retiring in a way where you create a path of income to supplement your life that allows you to make a decision on employment because you want that job, not because you have to take that job."

Stay tuned for part two of our conversation with Dan Kennedy, where he shares his experience as a member of the Executive Board. 

You can follow Dan on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more about Driven Capital Partners on their website.