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One of the greatest careers the MLS has ever seen came to an abrupt (although not unexpected) ending earlier this week. Throughout eight seasons with the Revolution, Tayler Twellman has had to battle through seven diagnosed concussions, sinus problems, broken cheekbones, broken feet, and innumerable muscle tears and strains. When, earlier this year, Twellman was faced with the sobering question of enjoying a healthy, productive existence for the rest of his life or continuing the play soccer, it was a no-brainer for him. Despite some questionable decisions and play over the years, Twellman played a huge role in advancing not just the New England Revolution, but the MLS in general.
Taylor was drafted by the Revs in 2002 as the second overall pick. At the time, the Revs were really struggling both on the field and off. There was a clear lack of goal scoring on the pitch, but just as important, there was no real leader, or ‘face’ of the franchise which would help them endear themselves to the uber competitive sports scene in New England.
During their early years, the Revs had players who were marketable both on and off the pitch in U.S. National Team defenders Alexi Lalas and Mike Burns, and striker Joe-Max Moore. Following their departure, there was a ubiquitous vacuum of leadership. Enter Tayler Twellman. Despite starting the 2002 season as a reserve, Twellman went on to finish second in the league with goals (23) and first in overall points (52). Twellman captured the attention of the fans and set the Revs’ marketing departure into a frenzy similar to a swarm of tweeners at a Justin Bieber concert. They had found their man.
In 2003, Twellman’s injury woes continued, although he ended the season tied for the league lead in goals. 2004 was a near wash due to injuries, and he saw his goal total drop to just nine. 2005 saw a resurgence when he won the league MVP award and scored 17 goals (leading the league). With this performance, Twellman felt optimistic about his chances of being named to the roster traveling to Germany for the World Cup. But, despite his success in domestic leagues, Twellman could never translate that talent to the international stage. People speculate that Bruce Arena just didn’t like him. Others suggest that the tactics and strategy of that U.S. team didn’t quite play to Twellman’s strengths.
But the fact of the matter is he simply didn’t perform when he needed to. His crowning achievement was in 2005 when he scored against Panama during a World Cup qualifying game. If we’re being honest, if you look back on your international career and a qualifying goal against Panama is your biggest achievement, chances are you weren’t that successful.To be fair, he scored a hat trick against Norway in 2006 but that was in a friendly. Inevitably, because of his inability to translate any of his scoring talent to the international stage, he was left off the 2006 World Cup team
Despite the ‘snub,’ Twellman went on to be effective in the MLS (when he could stay on the field). He scored one hundred goals, the quickest in MLS history (101 goals in just 174 regular season appearances overall),and had a better goals-per-game average than any of the five players who had more total goals. Pretty impressive stuff.
Despite his impressive achievements in the MLS, his international career tells a different story. Before being drafted by the Revs in 2002, Twellman left the University of Maryland in 2000 to join the German club 1860 Munich. His two years in Germany were not kind. Twellman failed to make it past the reserve squad and certainly didn’t make an impression on his coach. Realizing the European game was not for him, Twellman returned home and began his career with New England.
Despite this performance, there were other opportunities to take his game abroad and both improve his skills and advance American soccer interests abroad. Both were rebuffed. In 2007, Norwegian side Odd Grenland put in a $1.2 million offer for him, which was rejected by the MLS. In my opinion, this is one of the areas where the MLS falls short. Clearly, they were thinking of themselves and didn’t want to ship one of their most marketable assets abroad despite the obvious advantageous effect this would have had on his game. When you clearly have talent, which Twellman did, you have to be playing with the best to improve. As we all know, the MLS does not have the best talent, not even close.
In 2008, English club Preston North End made a bid of $2.5 million, but was rejected by Twellman. This was surprising. Perhaps Twellman had more of a hand in rejecting the previous bid than most people thought. Even still, why not go abroad? Improve, gain exposure, and strive to be the best, not a big fish in a small pond. Maybe Twellman knew his talents didn’t translate well to the faster, stronger, more competitive European game, and didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment?
At a time when American soccer so badly wants to grow, I think the leaders of the establishment really missed the mark. To gain American attention, you don’t need a couple of mediocre superstars in the MLS, you need American players being impact players in the best leagues around the world.
Despite the questionable international situation, I think Twellman’s career will be looked back upon with reverence. He did a lot for the New England Revolution, certainly. But, above and beyond what he did for the Revs and MLS, Twellman’s contribution to science could eclipse that. Twellman has agreed to donate his brain to science upon his passing. Scientists are optimistic that studying Twellman’s brain could lead to valuable insights into the on-going investigation of the effects of concussions and other brain injuries.