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Nine Zero Plus - Dan Kennedy

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Dan played 15 years of professional and collegiate soccer taking him from Santa Barbara to Chile to Puerto Rico to Dallas to Los Angeles. Dan played 10 seasons in Major League Soccer (MLS) as a goalkeeper, playing for the MetroStars, Chivas USA, FC Dallas and LA Galaxy. He was named an MLS All-Star in 2012 and served the MLS Players Association from 2009-2016, during his tenure he was elected by his peers to the Executive Board in 2014.


Dan pursued an MBA from the University of Southern California while playing professionally and following his retirement founded Driven Capital Partners, a real estate investment company, and is a sports commentator on MLS and Liga MX.


We cover topics ranging from work ethic, playing in the MLS, collective bargaining agreements, family, real estate investing and much more, including:

  • How soccer explains the world.

  • Why the story of Zak Abdel deserves its own Netflix documentary.

  • That it’s all about culture.

  • That it’s also all about passive income.

  • Why you should dream bigger.

  • How going about your business the right way can lead to being named an MLS All-Star.

You can learn more about Dan on Wikipedia and at Driven Capital Partners.


This conversation was edited into written form to make it easier to read.


Enjoy!


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Richard

What was your first memory of soccer?


Dan

As the youngest of two kids, at a young age I remember being around the game all the time because my Dad decided to coach my older sister’s team. From the time I was three or four years old, I was at practice during the week, at games on the weekends and sometimes at the field with my parents who played in adult soccer leagues as well. It was the sport of choice for my family and was really fun for me and that never changed.


Richard

When did you move from watching your sister and parents play and having fun on the sidelines to playing yourself?


Dan

At first, I was actually really drawn to basketball. Soccer was a big part of our family, but there was something about basketball and I just loved watching the game. It's funny how things turn out, because I'll never forget my mom telling me when I’d watch NBA games on TV, “Dan, you're not going to be an NBA basketball player.” Not in a mean way, more jokingly realistic, but it made me want it more and I had this vision that I could do it, play in the NBA, I can figure out a way to do it. So, I played both sports all the time. Since I can remember, sixth grade maybe, I would wake up at 5am, run to the boxing gym, workout, play before school, at lunch time, and then either go to basketball or soccer practice.


Richard

Where did that drive come from and did you make time for fun in sixth grade?


Dan

I was the kid that would just outwork you. I wasn’t the best or most athletic, I was just the kid that would outwork you. I was a resilient kid that loved challenges and it’s fun now as I'm raising my own children and dealing with their needs and their personalities and see some of that resilience. The good news is they’re much more athletic than me. On the fun part, oh, yeah, after working out at the boxing gym I grabbed donuts every day because I love food.


Richard

At some point, you focused your training only on soccer, right?


Dan

At about the same time, sixth grade, I knew I was better at soccer than I was at basketball, but I had a greater passion for basketball. So, I quit soccer and only focused on basketball because that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to play in the NBA. For a year, all I did was focus on basketball. Then, going into eight grade, I realized I was just average at basketball, my mom was right. Fortunately, it didn't impact my soccer ability at all. Looking back, I think that year helped me because of how dynamic the game of basketball is, more jumping, more agility from side to side, and my hands got better. So, I remember sitting down with myself and saying, I need to get back to soccer.


Richard

When did you know you were good enough to have a chance to reach the levels of success you achieved in your career?


Dan

It was right about the same time, around eighth grade when I turned my attention back to soccer. I was an average athlete at best, but I had really good training. My dad was a big influence but Zak Abdel becoming my trainer made the difference. The story of Zak is one that deserves it’s own documentary regarding his influence on the game of soccer and goalkeeping. I was fortunate to be a product of his training, along with names like Nick Rimando, Josh Saunders, Kevin Hartman. Once I started training with Zak and shortly thereafter went out for the Olympic Development team and made it, that’s when I knew I had a chance but that if I wanted to be a collegiate athlete and more, I needed to focus on being a goalkeeper. That’s when my focus shifted a bit and I just remember it being about how much I could train, watch and think about soccer.


Richard

Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself back in eight grade?


Dad

Dream bigger. When I think about giving my younger self advice it would be to dream bigger. I look back on my career and I accomplished a lot but if I had bigger goals, maybe I would have accomplished more. And that’s what I try to convey to my kids now, to dream big. Aspiring soccer players in the US are dreaming bigger now because we’re seeing so many more young players training and playing in the top international and Europe leagues. It's about having the dream. Today’s kids have the dream that they can go and do it, play anywhere, not just college or the MLS, but anywhere.


Richard

I love that, dream bigger. However, you still made some pretty big dreams come true for yourself. What do you think separated you from others?


Dan

My story is pretty unique. There are kids that I played with that had the innate talent and gifts to make it, that just wasn't me. I'm under six foot, so I'm undersized. I'm a stocky guy, so don't have a natural goalkeeper build. I was often the afterthought. I often was criticized for the quality of my training, and then in the game, I would settle in and be in control. I just always tried to play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because I always felt like I wasn't that good. So I had to work harder. And it served me well. I ended up going to UCSB because UCLA told me I can try to walk on, but they already had three good goalkeepers. No disrespect, but I think I ended up having better careers than all of them, and they're all my buddies now. What separated me, I was the kid that would just run through a wall to make it happen and I was always confident about being a gamer. I had this ability to concentrate and perform. I would often play better on the road than I would play at home, I would often play better in front of a big crowd than a small crowd. I always played better in games than I did in training. I always played best in the biggest games. That part didn’t always help me throughout my entire career, but it's just the way my career went.


Richard

As you look back on your career, you played on a number of teams, what made some of those teams great, what was the x-factor?


Dan

I think, and this is true with any high performance team, it’s culture. For me, culture is, I show up to work with you and I know what you're going to bring and you know what I'm going to bring. And if I'm not bringing something to the table that meets your standards we have the culture to address that. This is the distinction between good and great, in my opinion. A culture that at any time, if someone is not meeting standards, you talk about it and are better for it. The Los Angeles Lakers and what they just accomplished in the bubble are a great example. You're stuck in a bubble for three months, are you kidding me? The amount of adversity that must bring could make or break you and the culture of that locker room. They made a decision to band together and won a championship.


[Note: Dan was drafted by Chivas USA in the 4th Round (38th overall) of the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft out of UCSB. He was not kept on the roster, but joined MetroStars. He was signed by USL First Division Puerto Rico Islanders in April 2005. He played for Primera B de Chile Municipal Iquique for the 2007 season. In 2008, Chivas USA re-acquired Dan.]


For me, I showed up at Chivas USA in 2008. It was a good team when I showed up. My teammates were Jesse Marsch, now coaches in Europe, Jim Curtin, now coaches at Philadelphia Union, Ante Razov, now coaches at LAFC, Zach Thornton, now coaches at DC United. What I got to see from them is that they showed up every day to go to work. There was an expectation of what that meant. And it meant that you don't show up late. It meant that when you stepped on the pitch, you put everything on the field. And it was about winning. And that was it. It was honestly about winning. If we were doing small sided games, it was about winning. If we were playing table tennis in the locker room, it was about winning. Everything we did was about winning. And it's contagious, man. This is the great thing about team sports. I try to achieve this in my everyday life, and it's very hard to do without teammates. It's about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and not letting work that can get done today wait for tomorrow. Setting that expectation for the folks around you is what starts to build this culture of what it takes to win. I was very fortunate to learn from a group of guys that had tremendous success in MLS. They were excellent leaders, and they all led differently. And I was a young guy coming up on that team at Chivas USA. And that set the tone. And it actually just affirmed my beliefs of what I thought was right, and the right way to do things.


Richard

You were also elected to the MLS Players Association Executive Board in 2014, tell us about your experience?


Dan

I just wanted to learn. I wanted to learn the business of MLS and how to negotiate for the players. Not just for the players, but for myself, our contracts and my livelihood was a negotiation at the end of the day. It was a really interesting time for the league too. It was post David Beckham but pre Seattle, pre Toronto, pre Vancouver, pre Sporting Kansas City. It was a different time for MLS and I wanted to be part of making the league better for the players. And I felt I was one of the guys that was well suited to go and represent the players. I felt I could drop down the barriers of competition on the field versus being together off of it in a negotiation with the league. So, when I had the opportunity to represent the players as a part of the Players Association, it was something I was really passionate to get involved with to help take this league forward and to represent the players in a way that the league would respect us. At the time, I envisioned my future self as a club president or a general manager, after I was done playing, I thought I would move into one of those roles. It gave me the opportunity to interface with the Executive Director of the Players Union on a weekly basis, represent the players during collective bargaining, interface with the league office and with team owners. It was a great experience.


Richard

What about your decision to retire from playing, how did that decision unfold?


Dan

I had such a great run with Chivas USA competing at the top of the league to, arguably the biggest embarrassment of all time in the league. And it allowed me to display who I am. The good, the bad, the ugly, and I actually think I came out of it, garnering a lot of respect with how I went about my business. I had my disagreements with players, referees, coaches, but overall look back and am proud of how I handled my business.


[Note: Dan finished in second place for the 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award despite Chivas USA's last-place finish and participated in the 2012 MLS All-Star Game.]


So, when Chivas disbanded and we went through a re-entry draft to be picked by whatever club wanted us, I was like, well, this is crap. So, I basically said, unless I play for the LA Galaxy, I'm going to retire. That's literally what I said, I wanted to take a pretty strong stance on my players’ rights. The Galaxy didn’t work out but by taking a stand it led to a contract negotiation with FC Dallas who took me first in the draft. It was the richest deal I signed. It wasn't that rich but it was something that changed the way I felt. It gave me and my wife, Stephanie, the security to move to Dallas and not retire. That season was a wash earmarked by missed time with the team due to collective bargaining agreements, herniated discs in my back and a torn MCL. It was a really tough season personally, but the team had great success so it was still fun to be a part of. Come offseason the Galaxy we're still positive on me. So, I just went and talked to Oscar Pareja, the head coach. Oscar is a stand up man, and I told it to him straight. I told Oscar that he is a coach that loves young players and I was not young and that he could go out and get something for me in a trade before I leave next season for free when my contract is up. But, Oscar was open about wanting to keep me and he knew that I would play out the contract. However, I made it clear that if the LA Galaxy wanted me, I would want a trade home if he could do something that made sense for the team. There ended up being a win-win scenario where Oscar and FC Dallas got what they wanted in a trade, FC Dallas offloaded my salary on their cap, and I signed a two year deal for less money but got me where I wanted to be, with the Galaxy.


Bruce Arena was the head coach. Someone I look up to and respect tremendously. We had Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Nigel De Jong, it was a star studded lineup. It was a dream to be a part of. And, on the opening kick of the first home game of the regular season, I tore my adductor. After six to eight weeks of rehab I got one game and in Philly, and I made a mistake in the game. We drew the game, but I felt I never got a chance after that. Bruce left to coach the national team, Peter Vagenas was in the General Manager role and he told me that I made too much money. It's a terrible comment to make to a player. He was inexperienced but he decided that he was going to move the club towards a youth movement, build his academy and he no longer wanted me. In fact, he didn't want a lot of experienced players. I came in the next preseason, because I was contracted. I still wanted to play and I came in ready to go. However, when I showed up to preseason, the decision had been made that I wasn't gonna be a part of the team. I wish they would have had the professionalism to tell me earlier what their plans were because when I showed up, the decision had already been made. For a goalkeeper, you don’t have much leverage at that point because rosters are already set for other teams, so my options to move elsewhere were limited.


I told Pete he was making a mistake, letting me and other players go. A series of decisions that the LA Galaxy are still recovering from. He told me Minnesota was interested, and we can trade you there. I had no interest in going to Minnesota. I didn’t necessarily want to stop playing altogether, but I knew where my body was after all the surgeries in my career and at that point for a goalkeeper other clubs have already made up their rosters and their decisions. What many forget to understand is what life looks like off the field and how that persuades players decisions. Stephanie, my wife, had endured me playing for 12 years, we had ups and downs, and her career was blossoming, when mine was on a downward trend. I was accepted into the USC Marshall School of Business and the President of the LA Galaxy had always told me that I would have a job in the front office in some capacity if I wanted it when I retired. And so it felt like this was the time. I was young for a goalkeeper to retire. Goalkeepers can play into their late thirties, even 40 if you’re healthy but I had physical challenges. I knew, I could play maybe one, two, three more years if I really pushed it. But, for me the opportunity that laid in front of me with business school, my wife working, our young family, getting a peek of what it's like to work in a front office far outweighed chasing another 60 MLS soccer games as a player. It was a really tough decision. In hindsight it was the best decision I ever made. It was time, it was just time. You know me a little bit, Richard, but my mentality is, what now, I just don't get down. I think a lot more about the future and what we're doing today in order to prepare for it, then I ever think or dwell upon what's happened in the past or even what happened this morning. I'm so grateful for the experiences that I had. I'm surprised where the game took me. I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that it would have taken me that far. That being said, I'll never be satisfied with the career that I had and that's why my comment of dreaming bigger will always resonate.


Richard

When did you start preparing for your career after soccer?


Dan

There’s a group of players that had similar careers and we often joked with each other because we thought every year was gonna be our last. I really thought every year could be my last until I was about 27. And then I felt that I was hitting my stride and then about 32 I thought I was going to play for another seven years. And then I retired at 34. That’s how quickly it can change.


Fortunately, I always thought I might go into real estate, whether a MLS front office job came about or not, and I knew the founder of Radius Commercial Real Estate, a real estate shop in Santa Barbara, and I always just pinged him when I was in town, to get lunch, to learn. In 2010, when I started making some money, we bought our first home in Stockton, that's where my wife's from, and it was a rental home. The numbers made sense. It was a nice cash flowing asset. And so my goal was from 2010 on to buy one home a year. And I figured that if I could play long enough, and I bought one home a year, that when I retired from playing, though, I wouldn't be fully retired, I'd have to do something else, I would have a nice stream of passive income. So that was my focus. After the financial crisis, there was an incredible opportunity in the space. By the time I went to business school, I think we had six or seven homes. I was managing them all and realized immediately that this was not a scalable business model. I didn't want to build a property management team and that’s what's required if you're going to own a bunch of single family homes. So, I was looking for ways to scale and at business school, I got exposed to real estate syndication investing. At the time it was really appealing because I was playing professional soccer, going to business school, had a young kid, had a pregnant wife who works full time and I already have six or seven properties and didn’t have any more time. So to continue to grow my real estate investing and passive income I invested with other people as a limited partner, I became a passive investor in other syndications. Then, when I retired, and worked in the LA Galaxy's front office I knew immediately that I wasn't going to last very long in the front office environment. It was a very good experience for me but not where I wanted my life to go at the time. When I retired at 34, even though I didn't make that much money, I was in a pretty good position to retire financially. We've heard the horror stories of professional athletes, so I was fortunate to be in a secure financial position and all I focused on was passive income. My money was sitting parked somewhere making money for me. And so I decided I need to start helping MLS players invest in commercial real estate in a way that's going to unlock their future, just like I had been able to unlock my own. From a financial perspective, the standard investment vehicles do not work for professional athletes. 401K(k)s, IRAs, you can't access this money penalty free until you're 55 years old. As an athlete, you retire when you're 35 and most can't wait 20 years to access that money. You need to be able to access your retirement funds when you're 35 years old. That is the biggest problem for professional athletes.


My wife's best friend, Amy, and her husband, Matt Shamus, grew up with my wife. And Matt is just one of the smartest people I know. And when you think about culture, all of the things that we've talked about today, team success, buy in, commitment, partners, teammates, what you want is someone that you believe in and someone that you're on the same page with and somebody that doesn't necessarily think like you. So, Matt and I started talking about a business together. He worked at Facebook and was ready to move on and it coincided with my experiences working in the LA Galaxy front office coming to an end and my retirement from playing. We decided to go for it with the support of our wives. Our wives both had great jobs and could provide the family with some stability. We became self employed and bootstrapped the business. Now we're three years into building our business, and we're going to be selling our first deal. We're just getting started, but I'm excited about where we're going, and the positive impact we are having on our investors lives with Driven Capital Partners.


Richard

That’s great, you’re off and to the races. What does dreaming big mean to you now?


Dan

Every year I set new goals. Both short and long term goals personally and for the team. I did this playing in the MLS and still do today. At Driven Capital Partners, we've started to become an investment real estate company, that is not only a store of wealth, but capital appreciation. If we do it the right way, we're going to build really strong relationships and help a lot of people. We're going to really change people's lives over the next 20 years, including our own. Short term goals is to make sure we stay diligent in our craft and make sure that we are not overextending. Long term goals, we have strategic decisions to make regarding the future of the company. Do we want to be a five person company or do we want to be a 50 person company? The near term goal is $100 million is assets under management. And I'm sure once we get there, it's gonna be $250 million and then $500 million and then $1 billion.


Richard

How are you going to get there?


Dan

It is very achievable, and we are off to a great start. In the end our momentum is dictated by our prudence in acquiring good commercial assets. It's not going to be easy, and there's gonna be sacrifice and there's gonna be heartache, and it is going to be a grind. Matt and I can both handle all of that. I think I'm really well conditioned for this business. Just based on my experiences in sports and business school. Matt was a collegiate football player. He's built a lot of businesses over his career, even little sub-businesses within Facebook. In order to grow we're gonna need to hire some people that are smarter than us. I'm a generalist. I can understand trends and opportunities. Matt is the devil in the details and he makes our business tick from an operating perspective and I help our business grow so it's a really good partnership. We're connecting the dots on where the holes are and how we can fill them and the ability to put people in a position to do their best work is what is going to take us from good to great. Our business hinges on great relationships, those relationships are with our investors, employees, and the brokers, lawyers, and tax specialists that make us better together.


Richard

With a real estate business as your main focus, do you plan to stay involved or continue to work in soccer in any capacity?


Dan

Oh, yeah. As early as last night [at the time of this interview], I was commentating for Spectrum SportsNet where I do the pregame, halftime, postgame show for all LA Galaxy games. It's a great way for me to participate and stay involved with the game. I haven't had any games with Fox this year because of COVID. Typically, I do a handful of games with Fox and I'll cover MLS and Liga MX. I don't think commenting is a long term thing for me, but I think soccer will be in my life forever. But it's going to be through the lens of my children. My son, Archer, is now getting to the age where he doesn't want to stop playing. It’s amazing seeing it through their eyes. Just like it taught me, the sport, and it doesn't matter what sport it is, it has such a useful impact on lessons of life. Teaching right from wrong and teamwork and dealing with adversity. I think sports allows you to build up resiliency and in life, you're gonna need that. Sports are a great measuring stick for yes how good you are, but also how much you're willing to put in, how hard you’re willing to work. The times that you work hard, you feel the reward. When you put the time, energy and effort in, it feels good. And that's where confidence grows. So I'm excited to continue to pass on this sport to my kids. And if they pick a different sport, I'll help them out as much as I can.


Richard

Dan, thank you for your time and sharing your story. In closing, please let me know how I or Nine Zero Plus can ever help you.


Dan

Richard, likewise, anytime, I appreciate it. You know, it's funny. In life and in my business, Matt will ask me if I know anybody in for example, Nashville, and I can say, yes. I've created connections around the world, just like this one, and it's all through soccer. It creates this immediate bond. The network connection is real. It's its own community. Soccer explains the world. We will stay friends, and I will support you anyway I can, and with that I hope you feel some willingness to reciprocate the favor.

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