We continue our conversation with retired US soccer player Taylor Twellman. For the (heartbreaking) concussion-specific piece of our talk, click here for Part I.
TSG: Okay, continuing. How do you expect your livelihood to improve now that you’ve stopped chasing the game?
Taylor: The hope is that I start feeling better. There’s obviously a concern…there is always that train of thought that I may feel the way I feel now because I’ve felt this way for the past 24 months.
But the hope is that gradually with time my brain is going to heal itself and which the body does…and that’s the greatest thing about the human body….it heals itself and I’m going to give it the best chance to do it.
TSG: Do you have any–do you allow yourself to have thoughts of ever playing soccer even recreationally?
Taylor: Under no circumstance will I ever play contact sports ever again. The word from the doctor is “you can’t afford another concussion.”
The best way to handle that is never to put myself in a position to get one. You can’t control everything, like a car accident, but contact sports I won’t play.
My sport will strictly be golf. And that’s something…I don’t think people really truly understand why I play golf.
It’s the only thing that I can do. It’s the only workout I can do. People think it’s the leisure part of golf. But golf is so important to me. It’s the only thing I can do and it gets me out into the fresh air. It’s really the only thing that I can do that is close to a competitive sport.
There is a lot more to the sport of golf for me then just going out and walking 18 holes.
TSG: Okay, now I’ll treat this a little bit more like a standard interview and ask you some questions that we’ve wanted to for a bit.
Let’s talk about when you went abroad–something I’ve wanted to ask you for awhile. What was it like when you headed abroad, being on the vanguard of States’ players heading overseas?
Taylor: You can’t really compare when I went over there to what players going over now face.
I went abroard before the 2002 World Cup when America finally made a name for itself.
I think Americans are more respected now. I think they’re more well-regarded and they’re given more of a chance now.
TSG: Do you recommend that all American try overseas or focus on MLS first? I mean there is the Luis Gil situation. We just talked to Preston Zimmerman, who had nothing short of an absolute nightmare–no hyperboole–with a coach threatening him in Austria. And of course there is the popular Freddy Adu saga as well.
What would be your general advice to Americans who want to play aboard…or rather establish themselves abroad at a young age?
Taylor: It’s a different situation for every single player, however…
Here’s how I look at it, I think there is a lot of growing up done between the ages of 17 and 21. For the older generation, that growing up was done in college.
But soccer now, a lot of those guys they have to get competition and they’re starting to turn pro.
So my only concern for a young player going to Europe at age 17, 18, 19 is that….you grow up a lot. And you need a lot of help and a lot of guidance.
You need a support group around you. If you’re not playing right way, and you’re going to a country where you don’t speak there language, you need a very strong player who can do that.
Yeah, you can always argue that the soccer may be better, but I don’t think I agree with it anymore.
But a young kid coming into MLS they’re really given quite an opportunity. They’re given the money for school, a roster exemption and a the chance to play and train. I don’t care what anyone says you need to play to get better. If you don’t play in reserve games and you don’t play in games and you don’t play in
Open Cup games, real life competition where you’re forced to make decisions.
I don’t know, if I had a brother or son that was 17 or 18, I would tell them about the opportunity in MLS.
TSG: Moving to MLS, what’s the one change that has pushed MLS forward over the last year or so?
Taylor: Well, one thing that I give Don Garber a lot of credit for is that he’s willing to change.
For instance, he’s looked at the playoff scene. Colorado as the Eastern Conference Champion. New York’s the Western Conference champs. That has to change now and Don Garber’s working on it to change it.
I don’t have a problem with them keeping the conferences; I understand that. We’re an American league and we need to have that.
That’s one thing I’ve always been admirable of. He [Garber] is willing to change, experiement and move on. And he’s okay to say, “we screwed up, let’s change it, let’s make it for the better.”
I love that.
TSG: So you’ve been a fan of Don Garber for the most part?
Taylor: Don Garber, for me, since he’s come into this league, taken over the place….he knows what he’s doing.
He’s brought in big-time owners. He’s built stadiums. He’s really made a brand out of MLS in many markets.
It’s tough to argue.
As a player I’ve always said, “Well, look at his stats…”
If a player’s stats are good, you can argue all you want, but it’s hard too argue if their stats are incredible.
You can say the same thing about Don Garber.
You can say whatever you want about Don Garber, but it’s hard to look at his stats on paper and…I mean, how can you argue against the guy?
TSG: What are your thoughts on the upcoming MLS reserve league?
Taylor: It’s a good idea, the problem with the previous reserve league….Alexi Lalas and I were joking..because Alexi when he was the GM of San Jose played in reserve games.
The reserve league is…well it should be exactly what it should be, reserves.
It’s for players only who are trying to make a name for themselves exclusively.
And, you know what, it’s needed.
Look , Chris Wondolowski was a product of the reserve league. Omar Cummings.
I think our league needs it and I’m happy it’s coming.
TSG: So, in 20 years, what do you think the average attendance for a Revolution game is and, perhaps more importantly, are Boston fans talking about the Revolution in the same mode of the Bruins, the Celtics, the Patriots, Red Sox?
Taylor: When I came up right after the first Super Bowl win for the Patriots…and what came after that was amazing. I’ve been here for three Super Bowls wins, four Super Bowl trips, an NBA championship and two World Series and four MLS Cups.
There is no doubt in mind that the we had won one of those MLS Cups we would would have been in that discussion.
It was my goal when I was here to get us in the newspapers, in the gossip magazines, in the charities to get us mentioned with the other teams.
We’re definitely in that discussion now. It was a goal of mine when I was playing to get us in the newspapers, get us in the charities and
Just the other night we went to a Children’s Hospital dinner and, there you go, we’re up their on the stage and mentioned amongst those four.
And yeah, The Revolution are definitely mentioned as a top sport’s team in Boston.
I’ve always looked at it Matt in a different way to anwer your first question. The numbers are fine….sure we’d love to have 50,000 every game, but if your stadium holds 25 and you sell out every game then that’s a success.
For MLS in the future, when you have your own stadiums and then there is a demand and waiting list for season tickets, then we’ve made it.
TSG: Now I’ve heard that you want to be a coach or general manager in MLS….
Taylor: Yes, that’s true.
As for what my future holds, broadcasting is my dream job…I enjoyed my 3 or 4 games I did for ESPN as an analyst and color guy so much I would love to do that and work really hard at it like my playing days and become the voice of soccer in MLS and US Soccer for years to come.
However as we all know there are only a few spots available and I love the game so I am getting my coaching license here next week and I have always said I would love to learn the trade of being a GM….and feel that with the success that I have had being in the league for a while I could learn the ins and outs of being a successful GM.
But again can’t say it enough, I think I have a face for radio…ha ha ha….my dad’s favorite joke.
I would love to be involved with the TV aspect of MLS-US Soccer.
TSG: Okay, so be a GM though. Talk to me about some trades you would make for whatever team or some players you think are undervalued.
Taylor: I guess I would look at it a different way. I mean look at the Colorado Rapids.
How many trades did Colorado make this year?
The trade of Jeff Larentowicz what a great, phenomenal trade. Some would argue Pablo Mastroeni had a career year, well Jeff Larentowicz played side-by-side with him.
Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Andrew Wallace.
TSG: Macoumba Kandji.
Taylor: Brian Mullan!
Colorado, just traded their way to the MLS Cup. Whoever is making those moves should be applauded.
And in MLS it’s key to make the right trade at the right time.
I mean Brian Mullan–and by the way what is he 5 for 5 in MLS Finals–you bring in a veteran player at the right time and it’s a great move.
TSG: So the converse of that. What are some trades you didn’t like?
Taylor: For every good trade for one team means its a bad trade for the other.
And they aren’t really trades but there haven’t been that many successful Designated Player signings the way people think.
Its a difficult thing to find the right DP but I don’t know if DP means success yet on the field….and that doesn’t include Landon because American players understand MLS and he started here. But when you really look at the DP’s on paper statistically who has been that successful?
No rings. That’s for sure.
As a player and now being done playing, I’m just surprised that my Revolution teams were not kept intact the way you thought they would be.
And, I wouldn’t say….there were really no trades, but they just soft of let the team go.
TSG: Let’s switch gears to the the US National Team. As a striker yourself, how come prolific club strikers doesn’t transfer to the international scene.
How come…in all honesty Conor Casey has a great goals to appearance record–somewhere around 35% and the guy has never outright been the primarily penalty kick taker for his team–how come we have prolific strikers at the MLS or club level, but we can’t translate that to the international level.
I mean Juan Agudelo was the first States striker to score in South Africa this year and he wasn’t even playing in the World Cup.
Taylor: [Laughing] I never understood the evaluation of a striker on the international level. So many factors play a part in the process. Like how many games are with the ‘A’ team?? Who are you playing with as a partner up front?? How many games/appearances are substitutions? Are the goals against opponents in pressure games?
I always joked with Joe Max-Moore that if I played Bermuda too I’d have quite the haul…well I did play Norway…
So many times when a player is making his debut they are with other players making their debuts. And too often players making their debuts are playing for themselves when its the other way that you impress the coach.
If as a unit you win and play well that gets you more caps with the team.
So evaluating a striker on international level is difficult.
Scoring goals at the club level is hard but you train and play with those players every day and there is a system.
Then when you play for US team its a new system almost like an All Star team.
It takes time for players to play well and comfortable in that system. So I will answer your question with a question, how come some players score more with the US team than their MLS team?
If you watched McBride in his day with US team you would easily assume he scored a bunch of goals for the Crew, but that is not true. A striker scores goals when the system fits his play.
TSG: Do you think that is what Bob Bradley is trying to do perhaps with say the pairing of Robbie Findley and Jozy Altidore. Just trying to build up repetitions between them and fit them into a team structure?
Taylor: One thing for sure, I struggle with the idea that Robbie Findley is an international striker. I think Robbie Findley is a very good player, but I’m not sure that he’s the correct complement to Jozy Altidore.
The correct complement to Jozy Altidore is a goal scorer. Period.
And that’s the thing. Jozy is a big player, a target player. Robbie Findley has a lot of speed, but he needs to score off Jozy Altidore and I’m not sure he’s the right guy.
TSG: Well, talk about your scoring record with US team?
Taylor: I don’t comment much about it but I am very proud of what I did with the US team.
There were so many different circumstances that it took me a while to score and be the player I could be with them…but in 2006 I was finally put in a situation to succeed.
Playing with Landon, Noonan and Dempsey and Ralston and Wolff, guys that knew my strengths the best and of course Arena gave me three starts to show what I could do.
So who knows if those chances came earlier in my career what would have happened, but my six goals in a US shirt are very special to me because of the behind the scenes stuff and how badly I wanted to succeed on that level and prove fans and coaches wrong that I could play at the level.
And I would have loved the opportunity to represent the US on the World Stage as I did on the youth level and I promise you this…I would have run through a wall, a goalie, a defender to score a goal with that US shirt on.
TSG: You know, I was at the game at a foggy then-named Pac Bell Park in San Francisco when you lit up Japan. It may have been a somewhat meaningless friendly, but you were everywhere that night.
Taylor: That Japan game was the highlight of my MNT career. It was a big game versus a World Cup team even though it was a friendly.
It was in an environment resembling a World Cup game. It was also in a baseball park.
Dream come true for me.
….And a funny side note , the only multi-assist game of my career. Ha!
Two assists….and the eventual game winner for Double T:
TSG: I was watching in the corner, about eight rows back from the field, on the side you were in the 1st half.
You could visibly see–once you got it rolling–the trepidation in the eyes of the Japanese players when you had the ball. I still remember a play where you dragged out two defenders to the left wing and they were both super cautious about not challenging you and just containing you. Still didn’t happen.
I vividly remember that “still shot” in my mind.
Alright, we’ll toss out a quick fun question here to end the interview. I heard when you were in US Soccer January camps, that you used to earn a pretty penny on the golf course hustling some of the other players. Is that true?
How much money did you take off the other players and who were the guys that were the most competitive?
Who told you that?
Well I played a lot of golf in high school and that’s something that I really enjoyed about January.
You know that’s the thing–those stories–are the things that I miss the most about the game.
I was like Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump.
I used to organize foursomes and keep it pretty low key until other players found out.
There were some really good players back then that were competitive. Josh Wolff was excellent, Davy Arnaud.
Later on, I used to play with Landon Donovan who is so competitive but he’s not a golfer.
Oh, he’ll be good one day, but he’s got ADD. He gets distracted too easily. He starts looking around at the plants and the trees and loses interest.
But he’ll be good if he wants to be.
TSG: Thanks for all your time Taylor. Oh one more thing since you mentioned growing up playing others sports. You could have been a professional baseball player, correct? Did you ever regret not going that route?
Taylor: Not at all.
I was offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals to play baseball.
I turned it down and said I was going to college to play soccer and baseball.
I’ve never regretted the decision.
Mr. Taylor Twellman.