New England Soccer Today

Cardillo: Twellman was one of a kind

I remember my very first Revolution game perfectly.

My dad parked at Honey Dew Donuts- a mile away from the stadium- just for the coffee.  I was seven years old and in complete awe when we had walked far enough to see Gillette Stadium’s lights shine brightly in the dusk sky.  After Dad bought our tickets, we made our way up the ramp into the stadium and found our seats in The Fort.  Everyone was dressed in blue.

I watched the players taking pregame practice drills.  I knew some of them thanks to FIFA 2002, a game which I always picked – you guessed it – the Revolution as my team.

But there was one player who wasn’t in FIFA 2002.  A blonde striker wearing that happened to be wearing number 20.

Two hours later, that very player – Taylor Twellman – would pick up a pair of goals and forever leave me with an indellible memory.

I look back at that day now and I realize that I picked up on soccer at just the right time.  Prior to the 2002 season, the Revolution hadn’t yet become the the most formidable American side east of the Mississippi.  The team had no trophies nor the on-field cohesion that would eventually carry them to four title matches in six years.  But when Taylor Twellman arrived on the scene, it was obvious that everything was about to change dramatically.

You might say it was sheer luck that brought Taylor Twellman to Major League Soccer.  After all, the St. Louis native graduated high school with extensive ability in both baseball and soccer.  In fact, Twellman turned down a contract from his home-state Kansas City Royals before finally deciding to make soccer his career.

Twellman found his way to Germany with 1860 Munich long before the Dempseys, Altidores, and McBrides made their way overseas.  In fact, the only other promising young American overseas was none other than a teenaged-Landon Donovan, who would eventually make it back Stateside as well.

But fate had not rewarded Twellman with the kind of future in Europe he had envisioned  Despite performing well in the reserves at 1860 Munich, Twellman was frustrated that he had not been given a chance with the first team.  As a result, Twellman decided to return to the United States and try his luck in Major League Soccer.

He entered the draft as a forward and was promptly picked second overall in the MLS SuperDraft nd by the Revolution.

Two different sports had their paws on Twellman.  And 10 different teams could have captured him in the draft.  And yet somehow, someway, he had arrived in New England to score goals.

Twellman did not disappoint in his rookie campaign.  He scored a career-high 23 goals and led New England to its first MLS Cup where they eventually fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy.  The following season, Twellman tied Carlos Ruiz in league scoring with 15 goals- except Twellman did it in despite being injured for half the season.

Dark days followed the Revolution in 2004.  The team, despite the advent of young promising players like Clint Dempsey and Andy Dorman and the consistent performances of Pat Noonan and Shalrie Joseph, were struggling mightily.

All the while, Twellman, the proven goalscorer, had only scored three goals through the middle of July.  A hamstring injury also battered Twellman, forcing him to sit out for a few weeks.

But by the end of the season, Twellman rejoined the Revs and scored nine goals, helping the team slide into the final playoff spot.  The Revolution eventually lost to DC United in the 2004 Eastern Conference Final, but it was clear that Twellman’s scoring foot had returned as he put away two postseason goals.

Twellman’s Midas touch continued into the 2005 season, when he would become the league and All-Star MVP and score 17 goals to win the Golden Boot.  He also scored his first International goal in the final World Cup Qualifying match against Panama at Gillette Stadium.  The 2005 season was the best ever for New England, who opened the season with an 11 game unbeaten streak and saw Twellman score two hat tricks.

The 2006 and 2007 seasons were certifiable successes for the Revolution.  Twellman scored 27 goals between both years and led the team to back-to-back MLS Cups.  But since the Cup loss in 2007, Twellman lost his form.  Though he was slated to start the season opener in 2008, he missed the first six weeks of the season due to a leg injury.  When he rejoined the Revolution, he scored in a 2-1 victory over Chivas USA in May, but re-injured himself in the process.  Twellman wouldn’t return to the field until the 2008 Superliga, where he scored a penalty kick to help the team win its first International trophy.

But in August 2008, things took a turn for the worst for Twellman.  Twellman connected with the fist of Los Angeles’ Steve Cronin while heading a ball and was left with an injury that would eventually end his career.  Though Twellman scored the goal, he was left in severe pain that kept him off the field during the post-season and most of 2009.

Twellman managed to make two appearances in 2009 before returning to the injury list again.  On June 9, Twellman became the youngest player to score 100 goals, as he scored twice against the New York Red Bulls.

I certainly didn’t think that was the end of Taylor Twellman.  At the time, he had yet to turn 30 and had just scored his 100th and 101st career goals.  But unfortunately, Twellman would never play in a league game ever again despite valiant efforts to come back.

If there’s a word that describes Twellman’s career, it has to be “rollercoaster.”  Taylor Twellman’s career had it all: stratospheric highs and ocean valley lows..  Everyone will remember his bicycle kick against the Chicago Fire in the 2007 Eastern Conference final.  The way he flew through the air when he attempted a diving header or the way he jumped a pumped his fist to the air after he scored another goal.

And then there were the injuries- hamstrings, broken feet, broken cheeks, not to mention a series of concussions  It wasn’t a surprise really, given the level of tenacity and reckless abandon the blonde bomber played with. And everyone will remember how this striker from St. Louis, despite his obvious talent and knack for scoring, was kept off the national team for the 2006 World Cup.  There aren’t many people who think Twellman should have stayed home in 2006, and to their credit, Twellman continued to prove his supporters right.

Although Jaime Moreno leads the league in all-time scoring, it’s no secret that his numerous penalty kick conversions inflated his total.  Twellman scored 100+ times in so many ways.  With his head, with his foot, and with hischest.  From in close, from long range.  From freekicks, corner kicks, and breakaways.  And, from the penalty spot- but only thrice.

The two years the Revolution were without Twellman were agony, because it was painfully obvious that the team lacked a goal scorer.  Without Twellman, this group of Revolution players was an entirely different team.

As a little kid, I remember his autograph was the toughest to attain. It frustrated me.   But when I think about each of the 101 goals I saw as I watched Twellman, I realize that they were better than autographs.  They gave me and the Revolution faithful a reason to believe.

A part of that belief died when Taylor stepped up to the podium yesterday and announced that his bruised body could no longer endure the abuse of top flight soccer.

There never will be another Taylor Twellman.  But he proved to many that the United States is quite capable of producing goalscorers.

Leave a Reply