Taylor Twellman received the Paul Mariner seal of approval after the Revolution's road trip to Colorado and Kansas City. Mariner, the England national team starting striker in the late 1970s and early '80s, can be a demanding critic when it comes to the play of forwards -- and not just their scoring ability.
Mariner, now in his fourth season as a Revolution assistant coach, has been working closely with Twellman since joining the team. Twellman already had established himself as one of the purest US-born scorers, almost from the first time he touched the ball in an MLS game, but Mariner's mission was to improve Twellman's awareness of the intangibles of the forward position.
So after the Revolution's 1-0 win over Kansas City Sunday night -- Twellman's 72d-minute goal the difference -- Mariner ran onto the field at Arrowhead Stadium to embrace Twellman.
"I told him he was a top-class forward," Mariner recalled.
But it was not only the goal that impressed Mariner.
"He held the ball up, the timing of his runs, his timing in the box," Mariner said. "He used his brain and he stayed calm.
"Before the game, with no Rallie [Steve Ralston], I told him he was going to have to lead. He was going to be a key player for us and he needed to use his head and be smart out there."
Twellman scored 10 minutes into his first MLS start, and from that time on, he has become the most prolific US professional goal scorer. Former Revolution coach Fernando Clavijo planned to ease Twellman into action, but by the third game of the 2002 season, Twellman was in the starting lineup. The Revolution won, 2-0, at Columbus April 20, 2002, and Twellman has kept his starting spot since.
That first season with the Revolution was Twellman's coming-out party on the US scene. He scored 24 goals during the regular season, though his emergence came too late for him to be considered for the US national team's World Cup expedition to South Korea.
It wasn't until the 2005 season that the Revolution began stressing a passing game in which each player was expected to do more than the basics required of their position. All of a sudden, defenders needed to not only stop the other team's forwards, they were required to start the offense. And Revolution strikers not only had to score goals, they had to become the first line of defense -- post up and maintain possession with their backs to the goal, relieving the defenders and midfielders of some of their responsibilities.
Twellman did not immediately adapt to the change in emphasis. The effort was there, but understanding the subtleties has required more time. And the new and improved Twellman was on display in Kansas City. Twellman did not chase after everything, did not slide tackle every chance he had, did not run himself into the ground.
Instead, he selectively pressured defenders, just enough to funnel them into an uncomfortable position while his younger strike partner, Adam Cristman, went on search-and-destroy missions. And when it was time to hold the ball, Twellman combined strength and a soft touch to draw defenders.
Then there was the goal, of course. Scoring a goal in soccer is among the most difficult of sporting feats, which is why there seem to be so few of them. The degree of difficulty increases on the road, because of several intangible factors (of Twellman's 85 Revolution goals, 34 have been scored away from Foxborough).
First of all, few goals are scored solely through individual efforts. And in Kansas City, the conditions were energy-sapping -- temperature in the high 80s, humidity near 100 percent, the Revolution at the end of a demanding series of games.
A lot went into Twellman's goal. Andy Dorman made a tough challenge to win the ball from Jimmy Conrad in the center circle. Shalrie Joseph had to very quickly and deftly thread the ball with the outside of his foot into the space Conrad had occupied. Khano Smith had to read Joseph's pass, then choose to attempt to shoot past goalkeeper Kevin Hartman or send the ball from the left side of the penalty area across the goal area. And Twellman had to make a 30-yard run, timing it to be able to make a full-stretch slide onto a ball bouncing at about 60 miles per hour and with a narrow margin for error as Hartman and defender Nick Garcia took away angles.
"There are not that many players in the league who make that run," Mariner said. "And the ball was coming at some pace."
Revolution coach Steve Nicol described Twellman's score as "a striker's goal," an understatement similar to Mariner saying Smith's cross was "coming at some pace."
A striker must make many 30- and 40-yard sprints, never knowing which one might end up producing a chance to score. The Revolution have scored only twice in their last four games, but both of those goals produced victories and both were converted by Twellman. In a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy Aug. 12, Twellman squandered three excellent chances in the first half before making the difference in the 55th minute.
The Revolution have not been dominating opponents as they were two years ago, when they completed their best regular season to date with a 17-7-8 record. But they are displaying resourcefulness, and with an 11-5-6 record (39 points), they lead the MLS overall standings and are only 3 points behind the pace they set in '05.
Several Revolution players will be up for all-league honors, US national team call-ups, and Dorman and Joseph could receive offers from Europe. But without Twellman's finishing touches, a lot of effort and inspiring soccer would be squandered.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.