Taylor Twellman, the all-time leading scorer for the Revolution, five-time MLS all-star, and somewhere down his résumé, the occasional Gary Tanguay debate partner on Comcast SportsNet New England, has found his post-playing-career niche as ESPN’s color analyst on US men’s soccer.
He’ll join Adrian Healey on the call of Saturday’s MLS Cup match between the Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy (4:30 p.m., ESPN). I had a chance to catch up with Twellman, a huge sports fan and worthy subject for what is probably the first soccer post on the blog, earlier this week.
1. The easy story line is that this is David Beckham’s last match for the Galaxy, and I’m sure that will be a big part of the production. But from your standpoint as the analyst, what are you looking for from both teams in this game. It’s a rematch of last year’s Cup, but a lot has changed, correct?
Twellman: “Well, first, these are two teams that beat me and the Revolution four times combined in the MLS Cup, so I’m kind of sick of looking at both of them. So that emotion is still there. [Laughs.] But you know, it’s a rematch on paper, but it’s really two different teams. Particularly Houston. Houston has three new starters that have made them a better team than they were a year ago. Both teams hit adversity getting here, which is why one is a 4-seed and the other a 5-seed — they had to fight to get here. Forget where they were seeded, because it’s hard to argue that both of them don’t deserve to be here. It’s two very, very good teams.
“They are coached by arguably the best big-game coaches in MLS history in Dominic Kinnear [Houston] and Bruce Arena [Los Angeles]. They’re very similar in that they’re organized, they don’t take a lot of chances, so initially might wonder if the game will be very exciting, but it will be fascinating to see what Houston does to LA, not what LA does to Houston. LA is going to play one way and it that will be be to try to put pressure early on Houston. But LA has shown some vulnerability this year to being taken out of its rhythm, and if Houston can do that in the first 15-20 minutes, they’ve got a shot. But if they go in and lay back and try to weather the storm like they did last year, the game’s over.”
2. You joke about the frustration of losing those four MLS Cups to these two teams, but is that something you really carry with you even after your career has ended?
Twellman: “Oh, of course. Stays with me? When I go to sleep at night I have Dynamo shorts on and a LA Galaxy jersey just because I can’t forget. It’s weird, man. I joke about it, but really, four MLS Cups, and we lost to only two teams. It might be totally different if it were four different opponents. But I see these teams, and I think of my place and my time with the Revolution, and of course you think about how it might have been different. I’m proud of my career, but I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say I don’t wish we’d had at least one.”
3. But you’re back here a lot and know the Boston sports mind-set, and it’s clear, at least to me, that you’re not thought thought of as a guy who couldn’t win the last match four times, but as a guy who was a terrific goal-scorer and someone who should have had a longer run than he did. I assume that’s how your peers see you as well. Does your success and the fact that you played relatively recently prove beneficial in getting insight from players and coaches now that you’re a broadcaster?
Twellman: “Yeah, it does help, because it’s still very fresh and I still could be playing. A lot of these guys I played with, and they know me and, I think, trust that I know my stuff. They know that as a broadcaster I don’t have an agenda and I’m just going to speak my mind based on how I see something, and then it’s over with. I got a lot of feedback this year from players and coaches who enjoyed the broadcast and my perspective because they know it’s true to who I am. And I know enough people on every team that they might as well give me a straight answer because they know I’ll find out what’s going on. I have enough friends still on all of the teams that if they’re lying to me, I know they’re lying.
“I have to say, it’s been really fun. If you’d told me while I was playing that I’d have done broadcasting, I’d have told you you were out of your coconut. I had no aspirations to do this whatsoever. They referred to me as ‘Bull Durham’ because I had every cliché down pat. I was worried about the bulletin board material. [Bill] Belichick’s office was only about a half a football field from our office, so maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.”
4. You started off doing some stuff at CSNNE, even did a little bit of hosting, which is unusual for a recently retired player, a big leap, and really threw yourself into it. People there raved about the effort you put into it and the willingness to learn, which has manifested itself with generally really strong reviews of your first year at ESPN. You may not have known this was the path you’d take when you were done playing, but it seems pretty apparent that you’ve thrown yourself into it.
Twellman: “Yeah, when I first helped out on Comcast with some World Cup stuff and then filled in a little bit on ‘Sports Tonight,’ I realized, listen, I don’t have the wealth of knowledge that some of these guys have since I’d only been in Boston for nine years. Anyone who has hung out with me, played golf with me, run into me in a bar, they know I’ll talk sports with anyone. But I also knew TV wasn’t that easy. So I was looking at it saying, ‘I’d better put work in.’ But it’s not just about working on your knowledge, but the art of television. I never took a class, so I had no idea how to be a director, a producer, to segue, to go to a break … all of that was new. If it wasn’t for Comcast throwing me in there with [Michael] Felger, Tanguay, [Andy] Gresh, [Lou] Merloni and telling me, ‘let’s see how you do,’ you either need to prepare or you’re going to be exposed. There was a learning curve and there are still growing pains, but I treat it as if I was a player. You can’t just show up and expect to be good. You have to be prepared. I just hope it comes through, because I am working hard.”
5. Your career, as everyone knows around here, was ended prematurely because of concussions. You have your Think Taylor foundation that raises funds and helps educate others on the effects of concussions. You’ve been candid about what you’ve gone through. How are you doing?
Twellman: “It’s such a cliché , but I take it one day at a time. I have a headache, I still have a headache, and I haven’t worked out in over three years. But I’m very thankful that my family convinced me to start a foundation and be a voice about it. Just by having a website out there and being able to talk to people means a lot, especially if it’s kids who are dealing with the symptoms and don’t know what to do. It’s a full-time gig, and it’s kind of easy because I deal with symptoms every day so I can always relate, but it’s also a struggle because sometimes you just don’t feel like talking about it all the time. But it’s going well, and I’m very happy I did it, because helping just one person would be worth it.”