EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 15, 2007

New England's unknown superstar; Twellman is spotlight as Revs go for title

Bill Burt

FOXBORO - It used to bother Taylor Twellman, the fact that he was one of the few superstar athletes in New England, yet "nobody," including we members of the media, knew him.

It used to bother him that his team, the New England Revolution, couldn't win the big one - 0 for 3 in Major League Soccer Cup title games - as it heads into another "big one" this Sunday in Washington, D.C.

It used to bother him that the U.S. National team twice has cut him from the final roster for the World Cup team, despite everyone knowing he was the best goal scorer with American blood running through his veins.

But Twellman says it all changed on a family trip to Hawaii after last season.

"It was the hardest year of my life," said the 27-year-old Twellman. "I got cut from the national team (in '06), which was tough. Then three days later my grandfather (ex-major leaguer Jim Delsing) dies. There was a lot going on that was tough to deal with.

"Then we went on a family trip to Hawaii and it was there I said I was sick of being miserable. I was going to enjoy my life."

The All-American smile and good looks are hard to miss. So is his hunger.

Twellman's team is playing in its third straight MLS Cup game and fourth in six years.

If he's not the Revs' version of Tom Brady or David Ortiz, he's close.

Twellman scored his 100th goal of his MLS career (176 games including playoffs) in last Saturday's semifinal, a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire.

It's easily the most goals for any MLS player over that span. His 91 regular-season goals are 10 better than Dallas sensation Carlos Ruiz's 81.

But it was his last goal, sending the Revs to this weekend's title game, that was maybe the best of his career - the bicycle kick.

Thirty years ago, the great Pele made the bicycle kick his highlight play while playing for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

To put it in perspective for non-soccer fans, it's like a Little Leaguer dreaming of hitting a grand slam on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Covered by two Chicago Fire defenders about 20 feet in front of the goal, the ball was kicked from the sidelines toward Twellman. A Chicago defender headed the ball, which went straight up in the air.

"You dream of that moment when you're a kid. But really, you could go a lifetime without ever having the opportunity," said Twellman. "I was in front of the net. The ball went straight up. My back was to the net. And the (two) defenders were just far enough away.

"It wasn't planned. I can't tell you what I was thinking because I wasn't thinking. I just reacted," he said. "It was an amazing moment. It will probably never happen again. And to happen in a playoff game ... ."

It was the Play of the Day on ESPN "SportsCenter."

"I still haven't watched it closely because I haven't really had time," he said. "I've been a little busy getting ready for Sunday. When the season is over I'm sure I'll check it out a few hundred times."

Bicycle kick or not, Twellman says he couldn't be happier here with Revolution. He signed a hefty MLS contract in February for $1.2 million over four years.

He and his wife, Lindsay, have a nice condo in downtown Boston, on Newbury Street, no less.

"Me and my wife love it in downtown Boston," said Twellman. "There is no other place I'd rather play. I could have tried going overseas, but why do it? I love this league. Our sport is making strides every year. I want to be a part of that."

What should be known is Twellman is not a "soccer player." He is an athlete.

Growing up he played high school basketball, baseball and golf.

He said he was offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals out of high school as a shortstop, after batting .450 as a junior and .517 as a senior at St. Louis University High.

"I probably played more basketball than any sport," said Twellman. "I loved all sports. I thought about playing baseball (professionally), but I had a soccer scholarship (at Maryland) and that was too good to turn down."

You think so?

Twellman says being fourth of fifth fiddle to the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics is OK with him. In fact, he is a bona fide fan of all three franchises.

"First off, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan in baseball. They will always be my favorite team. But I do like the Red Sox," said Twellman. "I went to Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS against the Indians. Then I went to Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. Is that fan enough for you?"

"(And) I'm like everyone else. I didn't care about the Celtics the last few years. But now I love watching them," he said. "Kevin Garnett is the best. Every time you look he's got a double-double."

Twellman's boyhood pal, Pat Noonan in St. Louis, joined the Revs in 2003, the year after Twellman was drafted second overall.

He says what separates Twellman from most, maybe every other player in the MLS, can't be seen on the stat sheet.

"He's always been a little more competitive than everyone else," said Noonan. "This goes back to when we would play in his backyard. I hate to lose. We all hate to lose. But he seems to hate it a little more than the rest of us."

That probably explains his struggles on and off the field the last few years, especially when he didn't make the World Cup team again.

But nobody seems to have an answer as to why Twellman hasn't suited up for the US on the world's biggest stage.

"He scores goals. He's the All-American boy," said Revolution head coach Steve Nicol, with his Scottish twang. "I can't answer that question."

Again, the World Cup snub is spilled milk, according to Twellman.

Taking from the other franchise that calls Gillette Stadium home, Twellman, said his only focus is Houston in the title game.

"I don't worry about the past anymore," said Twellman. "If we beat Houston, we will be champs. That would be cool. I really feel good about our chances. I like our team a lot."

He also likes his place here in New England.

"When I walk the streets, people do recognize me," said Twellman. "It's getting more and more every year. It probably has something to do with our success. But Boston fans follow their sports. They are beginning to like soccer. I have no complaints."

And neither do soccer newcomers like myself. I know an All-American superstar when I see one. And I see one in Foxboro.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.


Twellman has good genes

Taylor Twellman, who grew up in the St. Louis area, has professional sports in his genes.

Here are some of his bloodlines:

* His grandfather, Jim Delsing, was an outfielder for 10 years in the major leagues.

* His father, Tim Twellman, played in the original North American Soccer League for the Minnesota Kicks, Tulsa Roughnecks and Chicago Sting.

* His brother, James Twellman, played for the San Jose Earthquakes, as a reserve, in 2005.



Who: New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo

When: Sunday, noon

Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

TV: ABC (Chs. 5-9)


Revs arrange free transportation

Fans of the New England Revolution can get a free bus trip to Sunday's game in Washington, D.C. The coach bus will depart from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro at 10 a.m. Saturday and should arrive in Washington by 7 p.m. The bus will depart at 5 p.m. Sunday and arrive back at Gillette early Monday morning.