New England Revolution goal machine Taylor Twellman, 25, has grit, competitive spirit and athleticism quite literally in his blood. His grandfather played baseball for the New York Yankees and uncle on his mother's side currently plays in the PGA. On the other side of the family, dad and two uncles both excelled in the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) - precursor to Major League Soccer.
Following in grandpa's footsteps, it looked like 'Double-T' - who also excelled at basketball and gridiron in his early days - might have been headed for a career in Major League Baseball rather than Major League Soccer, but he turned down an offer from the Kansas City Royals baseball club to concentrate on the world's game instead. After earning the bronze shoe as third top scorer at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria in 1999, football was suddenly the only game on the striker's brain and he was being touted by some in the know - including all-time US top scorer turned commentator Eric Wynalda - as the next big scoring sensation in the States.
"After the youth World Cup in Nigeria, I knew soccer was my future and I began to focus on moving forward," the player recently remarked.
Cutting short his University studies and football in Maryland (where he was a two-time 'All-American'), Twellman decided to try his luck abroad in Germany in January of 2000 with 1860 Munich. Though at home in the country of his ancestors, Twellman was unable to break out of the reserves despite scoring a handful of goals. "It didn't matter how well I played or how many goals I scored," he said. "It just seemed like they weren't interested in bringing me through to the first team."
Back home with a bang
After his German disappointments, Twellman returned to the States and was selected second overall in the draft for the 2002 MLS season. Heading to New England Revolution, it would prove a marriage made in heaven. In his first season, the forward proved his worth with 23 goals (scoring in his first six starts) and six assists that saw the Revs - with a poor reputation up to that point among MLS sides - roar to a first-ever 'MLS Cup' (the one-off final that decides MLS champions). The player's most notable attributes were clear in even that first year, despite losing to LA in the final. Strength, a nose for goal, tireless running and a fearlessness that put his body in constant peril, were enough to see the MLS 'rookie' nominated for league Player of the Year in 2002. His achievements were in stark contrast to his league minimum salary of 24,000 USD in his first season.
Since then, Twellman has gone on to become one of the most consistent scorers in MLS history. He earned league tops scorer honours again in his second season with a tally of 15. In 2004, injuries struck cruelly. But despite only appearing 23 games, his nine goals saw him finish second top scorer behind Carlos Ruiz. He brought the Revs back to an 'MLS Cup' again last season. And though they lost out to Landon Donovan's LA Galaxy, Twellman was top scorer for the season with 17 goals and named MLS Player of the Year for 2005.
Despite his savage striking performances in Boston, Bruce Arena - US national team coach - seemed reluctant to give the St, Louis Missouri native a chance on the big stage. His reservations seemed justified as Twellman looked somewhat nervy and out of his depth in his first few starts for the stars and stripes with zero goals to show for his first 12 caps.
But since bagging an opportunistic goal in a meaningless FIFA World Cup qualifier against Panama last October, the script has flipped. In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in Germany in June, Twellman has scored 4 goals in the US' last three friendlies (including a hat trick against Norway) and is looking a likely lock to join the squad in Europe this summer.
Though Arena remains cagey about the player's prospects, claiming "He's been scoring goals and if that's the measure of a striker, he's in very good shape at the moment," team-mate Landon Donovan is thrilled playing just behind the rangy forward.
High praise indeed
"He gets into tremendous positions and works so hard off the ball," the playmaker said. "With a player like that chasing defenders around he allows me to relax and do my job. He's earned himself a spot. He's an incredible player."
Following a recent 3-2 win over Japan in San Francisco in which he scored one and assisted the other two, Twellman maintained his well-publicised humility in the post-match press conference. "The only thing that has changed is that you guys are talking about me," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm doing the same things I've always done, which is work hard and try to get in front of the goal."
With a return to Germany surely a mouth-watering prospect for the competitive striker keen to prove himself in the country where he suffered his most trying times as a player, all focus is on club - not country - at the minute.
The player's abilities have not gone unnoticed in Llano de Alajuela. With a CONCACAF Champions Cup quarter-final clash set for 22 February, Alajuelense's official web site ran a story last week about Twellman's hot form and menace in front of goal.
The first leg takes place in Bermuda - due to weather concerns in Boston - and the Revolution will be hoping the recent US training camp keeps them in good stead. Despite the Revs being in their 'off season' and Alajuelense 8 weeks into their Clausura campaign, the fact that Steve Ralston, Pat Noonan, Clint Dempsey, Matt Reis and the inimitable Twellman have been involved in an exhaustive training camp in recent months has coach Steve Nicol in high spirits.
One thing is certain, if the MLS side are going to make a run at the regional honours and a place in the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup, Twellman's eye for goal and ferocious competitive spirit will play no insignificant part.