The du Nord Question & Answer Session With Taylor Twellman
Interview conducted and edited by Paul Demko
Taylor Twellman reached the 100-goal mark faster than any player in the history of Major League Soccer. The prolific poacher hit the century mark in just his eighth season with the New England Revolution. In 2005 he was named the league's MVP, slotting home 17 goals.
But what looked like Twellman's inevitable ascension to the top of the all-time MLS scoring ranks has been stalled by injuries over the last year. In a nasty collision with Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin last August, Twellman suffered a head injury that has since largely kept him confined to the bench. So far this season he's played in just two matches -- notching two goals coming off the bench.
I sat down with Twellman last week at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota. He was in town for the Schwan's USA Cup. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:
du Nord: This has to be a frustrating season for you because of injury problems. What exactly are you dealing with and what's the prognosis?
Taylor Twellman: Your guess is as good as mine. The prognosis is I've got a serious head injury that goes to my cervical spine. We're deciphering whether it's post-concussion syndrome or if it's a surgical-spine injury. Either way, they're both related. It's frustrating in the sense that I can't play. I probably have two stomach ulcers. But it's my brain. It's not something I can screw around with. Every doctor I've spoken to has said it's not career-ending, but you've got to shut it down. You've got to shut it down until you feel better and then it's going to go away.
dN: But it's not something like a broken finger that you can simply diagnose and fix.
TT: Exactly. If I had a cast on my neck right now, everyone would know I was injured. No one would ask me. But I don't have that. It's a brain injury. So no one can really see that I'm hurt. So everybody's like, 'God, I can't believe Taylor's not playing.'
dN: But obviously it can be a very serious issue.
TT: That's part of the reason why I'm in Minnesota. I met with Corey Koskie, who was the Twins player who had a bad injury for three years. It took him three years to figure out what it was. Thank God for Corey getting in touch with me. I've figured out what's wrong within six months. I'm very resourceful, I've done my research, and I'm on top of it. I want to be able to play golf when I'm 60 years old. So I want to take care of this now and not have to worry about it when I'm older.
dN: How much do you interact with the team while you're shut down?
TT: I'm there all the time. After the last injury the doctor told me I needed to stay away from practices. You can go to games, but the stimulus of going to practice every day, the bantering with the guys, isn't great. I'm there for the guys in the games, but I'm not going to sit here and lie to you: I miss playing. Because I know right now that team needs me and I need them.
dN: Are you afraid that Shalrie Joseph might take your spot?
TT: I kind of hope Shalrie plays forward because I need a big body next to me to take care of the beatings. I'd rather be the small forward for once.
dN: New England's had a ton of injuries this season. But it seems like year after year, no matter what happens, they're still in the playoff mix. What's coach Steve Nicol's trick?
TT: I struggle to find why he hasn't gotten more credibility in this country. He's a player's coach. He loves the players that have personality, that want to play. He loves the guy that's very competitive. You can tell by our teams. He finds the guys that fit into his system, he knows his system, he's got a great eye for talent. But more importantly he's one of the most competitive guys I've met on or off the field, whether it's playing golf or playing table tennis. Stevie, to me, should be in the running for the next national team head coaching job.
dN: What's assistant coach Paul Mariner's role with the team?
TT: He's the perfect compliment. Paul's the serious one. He runs the trainings. It's very English. Whereas Stevie's the manager, Paul's the trainer. He runs great trainings. He simplifies the sport. For me personally, I'm very grateful to Steve Nicol for bringing Paul Mariner along, because Paul's really evolutionized my game and made me understand what it means to be a center forward.
dN: Why don't you think he's ever been given a shot at a head coaching job?
TT: I don't know. I think that's more of a question for the clubs. But if I'm Portland or Vancouver right now, he's got to be top on my list. It's very similar to a Dominic Kinnear with John Spencer. The assistant's doing a lot of work there. They've put in their time.
dN: You've been to four MLS Cups with New England and come up short each time. In the immediate aftermath, how do you deal with that disappointment?
TT: The fourth one was the biggest kick in the gut because you believe. Every time you're going you believe you're going to win. I still think there's a way we're going to win one. But it's a nightmare trying to get to those games. The fact that I've been to four of them is pretty cool.
dN: Does it start to get into your head at all going into those games?
TT: Not really. I rooted for Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills growing up. I cried when Chris Webber called that timeout in the Final Four. I've kind of always rooted for the best player that never wins a championship. We've won SuperLiga and Open Cup too though.
dN: Where do SuperLiga and the Open Cup rate in your mind?
TT: They're second. They'll always be second. You want to win an MLS Cup.
dN: In recent years New England has lost key players like Michael Parkhurst, Clint Dempsey and Andy Dorman. Do you feel like the team has done enough to replenish that talent?
TT: No. I don't put Clint in the same category. The reason why is you just had the feeling that Clint didn't want to be here, never wanted to be here. He wanted to go over there. Clint's replacement was Andy Dorman. When Clint left, Andy was our second leading goal scorer for two straight years. Parkhurst and Andy should be on our team right now. But in saying that, Stevie's got a plan. It's hard to argue with what Stevie Nicol sees.
dN: There was a $3 million offer from Preston North End for you last year that MLS rejected. You reportedly wanted to go. How frustrating was that for you?
TT: There's two ways of looking at that. I signed the new contract. But in the contract discussions was, Taylor's not worth over $1 million to a European club. So when I hear that, and then I have a European club that wants to pay $3 million for me, I want to go. It helps the club. I'm not leaving the club on a free transfer and leaving them with nothing. The Revolution have done so much for me. I didn't want to leave them free. So I said here's $3 million, let's do it. You guys get the resources to find another striker.
I know Preston's not the elite club, but that's where Brian McBride started. That's where Eddie Lewis went. I think it was perfect. And that coach told me straight-forward, he's coming in, he's going to score goals for me right away. That's all I wanted. I wanted to go to Europe where a coach is saying you're my guy and then it's up to me. If I don't do it, fair enough, he can sit me.
dN: You played college soccer at the University of Maryland. How did you end up there?
TT: I had a lot of offers to play just baseball. I had a lot of offers just to play soccer. There were about 10 schools that said I could play both. And out of all of them, Maryland said I was starting both of them my freshman year.
dN: When was the moment when you knew that soccer was going be where your future lay?
TT: When I did the open tryout with the Kansas City Royals. I went to our legion baseball field. They brought out the wooden bats. Had a great hour workout. We sat down with the head scout there. He asks, 'What would you do if this was your offer?' I said I'd go to college. I didn't even think about it. Going into my freshman year of college, I wanted to give soccer and baseball a chance. Ironically that was the last baseball thing I ever did. Because my freshman year at Maryland I was freshman of the year, went to the under-20 World Cup and never played baseball.
dN: That Maryland program has developed into a real soccer powerhouse. Why has coach Sasho Cirovski been so successful there?
TT: I think I went through Sasho's growing pains. He was losing a lot of players freshman, sophomore years. What Sasho's done a phenomenal job of doing is he learns. He's okay to say, this is what I did right, this is what I did wrong. He's recruiting those Maurice Edu's, those Chris Seitz's, but he's complimenting them with the guy that wants to be there for three or four years. He's got a contingent of players that are strong enough to handle the one or two losses. Whereas when Danny Califf and I left they struggled a year or two. But Sasho learned. He figured it out and now look.
dN: You spent two years at 1860 Munich right from college. How did that come about?
TT: From the under-20 World Cup. I went there, scored four goals or something, won the Bronze Boot. I had two offers, one from Brondby in Denmark and one from 1860. In hindsight I wish I would have taken the Brondby one, because I would have gone there, played and developed. Where in Germany I went for the bigger club, bigger league, a little more money.
But in reality it was the best decision I've ever made because you were just a number over there trying to fit in. It was at a time where maybe my head might have been getting too big as an 18-year-old. Winning the Bronze Boot, first American to do that. I was thinking, maybe I am good. I went to Germany and it was a rude awakening. Shining shoes for Thomas Hassler and these guys. It was different. It was very humbling.
dN: Do you still see Europe in your future?
TT: As of today, I just want to play. I want to get healthy, play, whoever it's for. I'm still young enough where England's an option. I think if Europe comes calling -- which my agent tells me they're always calling -- I think Germany is where I would end up going. I speak the language a little bit. I'm a German type forward. I don't think I'm really a Spanish-type forward. I don't think I've ever done a stepover in my professional career.
dN: You were right on the bubble for the 2006 World Cup squad. How did you find out that you didn't make the team?
TT: I was the last one cut. I was the last one to receive an email. I found out via ESPN, when Bruce was on there. And then I got the email during the telecast.
dN: How did you handle that?
TT: You have to respect it. It's one man's decision. My family took it worse. My family's an all-sports family. The baseball-golfers in my family just don't get how the MVP of the league didn't go to the World Cup. I was mad. Obviously disappointed. But at the end of the day I scored six goals in my last three national team games before the World Cup. I can't do anything else. He either likes me or he doesn't. I actually sought out the emails he sent out to other players. Mine was very personal. I could tell that I was on Bruce's mind.
dN: Are you in contact with Bob Bradley?
TT: No. Bob knows what I bring. I love the team. I love playing for the team. I know the national team's an all-star team so my ego goes out the door when I go there. I just want to play in any capacity. I know I can help that team. Again, it's one man's decision. I can't worry about that man's decision. I've got to worry about myself and just do what I do.