New England Soccer Today

O’Connell: Twellman turned me on to soccer

The first time I heard of Taylor Twellman was seconds after I had launched a fully-inflated kickball square into the face of a nine-year-old girl. A nine-year-old girl with glasses.*

(*Now, before I get crucified, allow me to explain: as a teacher working at an after-school day care program, it was my job to play sports with the kids. One such sport was kickball. And although a 20-year-old college sophomore probably had no business launching rubber-coated missiles at elementary-aged kids, all I can say for myself as that to this very day, nearly all of my kids went on to play sports at the high school and college levels. Clearly, I hadn’t traumatized them that much.)

Twellman celebrates scoring the opening goal at the 2007 MLS Cup. (Photo by Art Donahue/

Anyway, I hurried over to her, trying my best to console this poor girl, who’s face was red and streaming with tears, trying to be tough and hold those tears back as best as she could. She was a little athlete, though. I have to say: she held up pretty well. After a few seconds of self-deprecating humor and apologies, she walked back about twenty yards to retrieve her glasses (which somehow escaped serious damage).

Fully composed, she put her glasses back on and playfully screamed back at me: “Mr. Brian, who the heck do you think you are? Taylor Twellman???”

OK, so it wasn’t exactly the ideal introduction to the player who would go on to become the face of the Revolution. But four years later, it hit me, like an speeding kickball to the face, just how good Taylor Twellman was.

It was in the midst of a heavy snowstorm in southeastern New England. I had just taken an interest in soccer only weeks before. I won’t bore you with the details. It’s a very, very long story that would probably put an insomniac to sleep.

Anywho, I didn’t have Fox Soccer Channel or GolTV at the time, but lucky for me, a U.S. Men’s National Team match had magically appeared on ESPN2 just in time to stave off cabin fever. It was a friendly against Japan at what was then called PacBell Ballpark in San Francisco.

I caught the game somewhere inside of the first 20 minutes. I think. The score was 0-0. Then, in the 24th minute, Eddie Pope pounded a ball past the Japanese keeper to make it 1-0. The replay showed that the player who had set it up was none other than the same Taylor Twellman I had been mockingly monikered years before.

Minutes after Pope’s goal, Clint Dempsey scored the second. The replay, once again, showed Twellman as the accomplice. Had you asked me at that point who the ultimate assistman was for Nats, I would have answered Taylor Twellman. He was, at the moment, the John Stockton of American soccer.

But before The Twellman Show reached its closing credits, the main character still had one more memorable scene.

In the 50th minute, Landon Donovan delivered a low cross into the box, where Twellman dove through it to make it a three goal affair. It was clear: Taylor Twellman had permanently etched himself into my psyche.

At the time, my interest in soccer was passing, at best. But his brilliant performance had on that snowy afternoon catapulted it to full-fledged addiction. After the game, I googled him, learned that he played only a 20-minute’s drive north of Providence, and promptly memorized the Revolution schedule.

I only missed two home games that season – one due to illness, another due to a serious rainstorm (I hadn’t yet learned that there are no such things as “rain outs” in soccer). Although Taylor’s name wouldn’t be called when Bruce Arena announced his World Cup roster that summer, number 20 played like a man on fire. After the Americans limped out of Germany with only one goal to their credit, it was clear to many that Twellman, the consummate goalscorer, could have aided their cause. Alas, we will never know for sure.

Twellman finished the 2006 campaign the same way he started it: in remarkable fashion. Once autumn arrived, Twellman engineered another Revolution run to the MLS Cup finals. Facing a stingy Houston defense, Twellman broke through in the 113th minute to give his club what appeared to be the sure-fire winner. But, we all know the story. Moments after the monumental goal, Brian Ching equalized, and the Dynamo took it in penalties.

The Revolution earned a rematch with Houston a year later, only to succumb in the end. But the following year, Twellman found himself on the wrong end of a botched Steve Cronin clearance. Amazingly, Twellman somehow got enough of his noggin on it to put it through. Unfortunately, we would learn that the striker had suffered concussion number seven as a result. It was beginning of the end.

After the Revolution had struggled out of the gate in 2009, Twellman would make two more appearances. He set up a Steve Ralston penalty in the first one, and scored a pair – as a substitute – in the second. It only reinforced what I had come to learn since that February 10th friendly against Japan: any team that had Taylor Twellman were far deadlier with him on the pitch.

Some questioned his drive after he was ultimately shut down for good. He would be seen laughing and smiling in street clothes around the locker room. He cracked jokes. He certainly looked to be the model of health.

But what we couldn’t see were the excruciating headaches, the non-stop nausea, nor the lingering bouts of memory loss that he, like many others who have suffered from post-concussion syndrome, have had to live with. Knowing the kind of competitor he had proven himself to be over the years, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have done anything and everything short of a brain transplant to get back onto the pitch.

Sometimes, we encounter problems that cannot be fixed or changed. Life isn’t fair. And on Wednesday afternoon, we learned that sobering lesson when a thirty-year-old athlete, an athlete who had shattered almost every scoring plateau in MLS, was left without any other choice but to call it quits.

It’s strange how fate sometimes works. I think back to that moment shortly after my nine-year-old student had called me “Taylor Twellman.” And although it was said in complete jest, I can’t help but smile and think about it now, as a die-hard soccer fanatic, that nine year old girl unknowingly introduced me to the man who went on to become the greatest soccer player in New England since Billy Gonsalves.

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