Twellman ready to overcome offseason of discontent
As offseasons go, it was not a good one for Taylor Twellman. After suffering his fourth MLS Cup loss as a member of the New England Revolution, Twellman saw a multi-million dollar transfer bid for his services rejected by MLS, while his strike partner and close friend transferred overseas. He appeared for the U.S. in the friendly win over Sweden in January, only to miss February's match against Mexico with a groin strain.
Four days before New England opened its 2008 campaign, Twellman reflected on the most turbulent period of his career, admitting that he is still has not completely gotten over what took place since a transfer bid from Preston North End of the English Championship was rejected.
"[MLS Cup] was the beginning to an offseason that I didn't really see coming," said Twellman. "It was extremely exciting to get an offer of that magnitude from Preston but, on the other hand, it was disappointing the way the whole situation was handled. It was a little discouraging."
Though he was not actively seeking a move overseas, Twellman was keen to pursue the opportunity with Preston. To add further to his disappointment, he says that he felt his current contract should have been renegotiated in light of the interest in him.
"Fair enough if you don't want to sell me but, on the other hand, something else has to give, and that was the most discouraging thing for me."
Twellman signed his last contract with the league prior to the 2007 season and feels that, given the amount of money offered for him, his worth should have been reflected in a new deal. That none has been forthcoming continues to irk the Revolution's all-time leading goal scorer as he prepares for the new season.
"I was angry at first and now I'm discouraged and disappointed, but you have to find that balance and somehow be professional about it. It's been a battle in the offseason just to get my mind straight and find the right balance between being [upset] and being ready to play on Saturday."
Twellman was keen to point out his commitment to the Revolution, stating that "as long as I'm playing in MLS, my heart and soul is with the Revs." Though his immediate hopes to play abroad have been dashed, the St. Louis native, whose professional career began with 1860 Munich, pointed to his age (28) as a reason for his belief that the overseas door may not be closed forever.
For now, Twellman's attention is on the start of the regular season, which will see him line up without Pat Noonan by his side. The duo, which has combined for 128 MLS regular-season goals, will not be together after Noonan transferred to Aalesunds FK in Norway. Noonan's departure was the last of four made by Revs' veterans since the end of last season, as he joined Avery John, James Riley and Andy Dorman on the way out of Gillette Stadium.
"There's no secret that Pat and I got along well personally and professionally," said Twellman. "But I think [we'll miss] all four of them. The one thing we have always had in our favor was that we had had so many guys here for so long and we didn't have to talk, we just knew exactly where everyone stood."
Twellman believes that the turnover New England's roster has undertaken, which has seen the experience replaced by youth as well as veterans such as Chris Albright and Mauricio Castro, represents the greatest challenge to Steve Nicol's side this year.
"This is my seventh preseason and it was a new one, based solely on the fact that we have a lot of new faces. We have to do a good job this year of incorporating the new guys and getting everyone on the same page quickly," said Twellman. "The best thing about Stevie Nicol is that he puts everyone on an even playing field quickly, and hopefully that continues this year."
Speaking recently about his star striker, Nicol was confident Twellman would be as effective this season as he had ever been, despite everything that has gone on in recent months. It is a view echoed by Revolution assistant coach, Paul Mariner.
"I always feel that Taylor is set up for a big season. He's had his distractions and I think he is disappointed that his move to Preston didn't come about, but he knows there is no way we wanted him to leave and I think he understands the reasons for that," said Mariner. "He is a great professional who wants to get out on the field and score goals. When he doesn't, he is very upset. I have no qualms about Taylor's attitude and appetite for the game in a Revs shirt."
A former England striker himself, Mariner has been a major influence on Twellman since joining Nicol's staff in 2004 and admires the single-minded approach he takes to his game.
"He is a very strong character. On the field, he is one of the most mentally strong attackers there is. Whether he scores or misses with an opportunity, he is always in there," said Mariner. "I was talking to Chris Albright about him, and Chris has played against him for the Galaxy and in training with the national team. He said you just cannot take your eyes off him for a second when you're playing against him."
With his regular-season tally currently just nine goals short of 100 and with the agony of coming so close again to winning a championship fresh in his mind, Twellman has plenty of challenges ahead of him this season. He knows his overseas ambition will have to wait. Starting Saturday, the Revs' talisman has to get back to doing what he does best.
Andrew Hush is a soccer researcher for ESPN International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.