Twellman breaks through
Hat trick for US shows he belongs
US forward Taylor Twellman runs with the ball during second half action in a friendly match against Norway. Twellman scored three goals in the game. (Getty Images Photo / Robyn Beck)
FOXBOROUGH -- Taylor Twellman went through a scoreless streak of nearly three years in international games. But after completing a hat trick in the United States' 5-0 win over Norway Sunday, Twellman has now converted four times in his last three games for the national team, greatly improving his chances of being selected for the World Cup team.
Twellman's success coincides with improved health -- illness and injuries stifled his international progress in 2003 and '04 -- plus the arrival of Paul Mariner as a Revolution assistant coach. Mariner was among the most deadly strikers in England during the late 1970s and '80s, and has been coaching and playing in the US since 1989.
''Scoring three goals in any game is big-time," Mariner said yesterday. ''Taylor always had the willingness, and you saw it on the international stage against Norway."
Twellman broke his drought in a 2-0 US win over Panama in a World Cup qualifier at Gillette Stadium last Oct. 12. Against the Norwegians, Twellman displayed a good touch in left-footing a shot off a Clint Dempsey centering pass in the fifth minute, and opportunism and timing in heading in a Todd Dunivant free kick in the 17th minute and a Pat Noonan cross in the 76th minute.
But Twellman's most crucial improvement has been in maintaining possession with his back to the goal.
''The more and more you keep tapping on someone's head, the more bits of stuff that goes in," said Mariner of the constant training of Twellman with the Revolution. ''We want Taylor to keep things simple in the middle third of the field and do what he does best in the box. And that is the dimension that you saw in his game [Sunday], plus the backtracking to defend.
''They say that a striker who can hold the ball is worth his weight in gold. If he is getting the ball and he has 'trampoline socks' and he can't hold the ball, no one knows what to expect and so they hesitate and there is no flow to the attack. But if he can hold the ball in the middle third, the attacks will be more frequent and we will get more balls in the box."
Mariner and Revolution head coach Steve Nicol have been working on rounding out Twellman's game, often reminding him of the less-glamorous traits of strikers such as Hernan Crespo (Chelsea) and Andriy Shevchenko (Milan), who act as points of reference for their teams.
Twellman has proved to be the best US-born goal scorer since joining the Revolution in 2002, a fearless, strong finisher near the goal and a consistent threat with strikes from outside the goal area.
Last season, he scored 17 times (he has 64 regular-season and four playoff goals in his MLS career) and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
''It is one thing to finish crosses when you are getting fantastic balls from David Beckham and Roberto Carlos," Mariner said. ''But you have to want to get on the end of it."
Mariner projects Twellman as a reserve to Brian McBride on the national team, a possible super sub in the World Cup.
''McBride is a fantastic player, for me one of the best strikers in the Premier League with Fulham," Mariner said. ''If you want a difference-maker, or a goal-scorer, or whatever you want to call it, Taylor is that. He went so many games with no goals [for the US] and people would say he can score in the MLS but not internationally, but now he has a smile on his face and it is a massive weight to take off any forward.
''We saw [Twellman] in the hotel in LA [two weeks ago] and he was sharp and bright, confident in the environment. It's no different than going from high school to college, from the [Dutch] Eredivisie to the [English] Premiership, or from different levels of international football. Each step up brings different challenges; things are a little quicker, you have to be a little faster mentally."
Twellman and the US struggled in a 0-0 tie against Canada Jan. 23 but dominated an unprepared Norway team. The US will next meet Japan in San Francisco Feb. 10. Twellman and teammates Dempsey, Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston, and Matt Reis will then rejoin the Revolution, preparing for a Champions Cup match against Alajuelense Feb. 22 and skipping the US-Guatemala game Feb. 19 in Frisco, Texas.
Back on his feet
Shalrie Joseph reported to Revolution training yesterday and said he was nearly totally recovered from foot and facial injuries that left him limping and unable to speak following the Revolution's loss to Los Angeles in the MLS Cup final in November.
''It wasn't just me, a lot of guys were banged up," Joseph said. ''You should come out of the finals banged up, but we went in banged up. We did great things during the regular season and playoffs but we didn't have a good game in the final.
''That made it tough to get through the offseason. Plus, I couldn't even put on my shoes for a long time and I only got back to jogging a couple of weeks ago.
''Now, we want to start off winning our first game, and it doesn't matter if it's an MLS game or CONCACAF [Champions Cup] game. We don't want to finish with anything less than we did last year, and as long as we do our stuff in the preseason, we will be all right."
Draft choices Willie Sims and Kyle Brown reported to training but top pick Leandro de Oliveira remained in Brazil. Sims, whose father, Oscar, was a top player in Guatemala in the 1980s, said he refused a call-up to the Chapines' national team for the Feb. 19 game against the US.
''I just want to acclimate myself and get fit for my club team," Sims said. ''There are some great players here and it is going to take time for me. I'll play wherever they want me. I play up front and roam around and score goals; I've done that all my life."
Brown began playing soccer in Tulsa, then played both soccer and football after his family moved to Dallas.
''My dad was my first soccer coach in Oklahoma," Brown said. ''But we moved when I was 8 or 9, and when you grow up in Texas, they have 15,000 sellouts at stadiums in high school. If you can run and are coordinated, they get you out for football, and as a sixth-grader you are running the high school offense. I enjoyed it but I always loved to play soccer."
Former Boston College defender Pat Haggerty is training with the Revolution this week.