You would think that Taylor Twellman's primary objective for the 2005 MLS season would be obvious, like scoring more goals or maybe dealing out more assists. But the New England forward's aim for the current campaign is more modest.
"Health," Twellman responds.
The apparent sarcasm draws a few chuckles, but the fourth year veteran is deadly serious.
"Everyone laughs when I say that, but until you've experienced a full year of being knocked down, trying to get back and then having something happen ..."
The brief silence that ensues speaks to Twellman's frustration more than words ever could. He finally adds, "I just want to get back to where I was two years ago."
So far, so good. While Clint Dempsey has garnered most of the headlines in the season's first month, Twellman has done his part, tallying three goals and three assists. Among those was his 50th career MLS regular-season goal.
Just how he does it remains something of a mystery, as there isn't one thing about the Revs' star that jumps out at you. He doesn't have Landon Donovan's speed or the target-man ability of a Brian McBride.
What Twellman does possess is a solid all-around game, one where he can score with either foot as well as his head. But when you ask the Revs' forward about his strengths, or in which situations he excels, you get the sense that Twellman is guarding some state secret.
"I'm just a guy who likes being around the goal," he says.
But after three full seasons in MLS, his predatory instincts are well known to his opponents.
"His first few steps are very, very explosive and he can jump quicker than most players," says San Jose defender Troy Dayak. "He gets himself into positions that most forwards don't want to stick their face into. He has no fear."
Therein lies the problem. Despite leading the league in goals in 2003, that season saw Twellman catch an injury bug that he has struggled to shake, enduring ailments one wouldn't see in a year's worth of "E.R." episodes. Walking pneumonia, multiple facial fractures, a broken foot, and a torn hamstring are just a partial list of Twellman's woes.
To his credit, the Revs' front-man still managed to appear in the majority of his team's games, seeing action in 23 matches last year while tallying nine goals plus two more in the playoffs. Yet around the league, the term "snakebit" comes up most often in describing Twellman's 2004 season -- something he doesn't deny.
"Snakebit? Yeah, I [had shots that] hit the goalie in the face in the first four games of the season; four times from point-blank range. Obviously it's a lot easier when the ball is going in the net, but on the other hand if my snakebitten seasons are nine goals in 20 or so games, that's not a bad rate."
But the injuries have taken their toll. There have been times when Twellman has rushed back into action too soon, thus delaying his return to top form. It has also impacted his international career in that every camp missed has allowed other players such as Brian Ching and Conor Casey to shoehorn their way into the mix. This doesn't worry Twellman, however.
"I'm there now, so I'm not too concerned about the past. I'm trying to look at what I need to do today and tomorrow to help [the national team] and the Revs."
Twellman may not be concerned about the past, but he still relies on prior experiences to help him deal with the present. In particular, his time spent with German club 1860 Munich prepped him for the rigors of professional life.
When Twellman went overseas, he was coming off two successful seasons at the University of Maryland, not to mention the high of winning the Bronze Boot during the 1999 U-20 World Championships. That mattered not a wit to his new coaches, who tried him at right midfield, and even right back for a spell.
"I think maybe I thought I was too good for myself at that time," says Twellman. "I was over there where no one had a clue about my past. They didn't care. It was only about what you did today. At the end of the day, I was humbled and I think that was what I needed at that time in my life."
The two-time MLS All-Star has also been able to draw on the experiences of his father, Tim, who enjoyed a decade-long career in the NASL and MISL, and whose optimism has taught his son the value of thinking positively no matter the circumstances.
"I think having parents [who] played professionally, who have lived the life; they know the ups and downs," says Twellman. "Last year was by far the hardest year I've ever experienced, and I think having a dad that played through injuries was something that works in my favor. It's something I'm trying to learn. I'm nowhere near where he is on the positive thinking, but I'm trying to work on that."
Away from the field, Twellman finds refuge in an arena that most find maddening: the golf course. In a sporting family that counts PGA Tour member Jay Delsing among its members, the Minneapolis native has a leg up on the rest of us duffers.
Twellman even harbors dreams of one day playing on the tour himself. But in listening to him talk about his other passion, it's clear that golf is less a good walk spoiled and more a refuge for his psyche.
"I just love it. There's just something about being out there, just you and the course, not against anyone else. It's pretty cool."
While Twellman isn't likely to find that kind of peace in opposition penalty areas, he has every reason to think positively about this season so far. The Revs have ditched their Rip Van Winkle routine -- that of sleepwalking through the first 20 weeks of the MLS season -- and look poised to maintain their peak form for longer stretches.
New England certainly has the ability. Fellow forward Pat Noonan, as well as midfielders Dempsey and Steve Ralston, give the Revolution the most potent attack in MLS. Midfielder Shalrie Joseph remains one of the most underrated players in the league, and rookies Michael Parkhurst and James Riley have paid immediate dividends. But that doesn't make Twellman's contribution any less important.
"We've got more options," says the Revs' marksman. "Is it a team where I'm going to have to score 25 goals a year? Probably not. But in order for us to be successful, I think I need to be playing every game."
Here's to his health.
Jeff Carlisle is a freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org