Back in U.S., Twellman kicking up heels again

Ex-Terps star hit in MLS after false start in Europe

Soccer

August 03, 2002|By Tommy Ventre | Tommy Ventre,SUN STAFF

GERMANTOWN - Taylor Twellman is a happy young man.

Horsing around yesterday at the Maryland SoccerPlex during an open practice for today's MLS All-Star Game, Twellman wore across his tanned face a smile that was as wide as it was in 1998 when he earned national Freshman of the Year honors at Maryland while leading the Terps to the final four.

Sprinting and laughing in a gray jersey and blue shorts, he seemed to be having as much fun as the kids behind the goal chasing the balls he occasionally sent over the bar during drills.

And who could blame him? Back in the United States after two unfruitful years with 1860 Munich in Germany's Bundesliga, Twellman is the toast of MLS. A starting forward for the New England Revolution, the 22-year-old from St. Louis entered the All-Star break leading the league in points and tied for the lead in goals.

But as bright as his smile was yesterday, Twellman's mood belied the pressure that awaits him and several of the league's other rising young stars in the coming years. The 7-year-old league is entering a key phase in its development, and players like Twellman will likely be the ones dictating whether that phase is a success.

In the wake of the U.S. national team's run in this summer's World Cup, MLS commissioner Don Garber said yesterday that his league is set to capitalize on a wave of pro soccer energy that could begin to offset the $300 million in losses the venture has suffered since its 1996 inception.

At the same time, however, the young stars Garber would like to develop and market to a growing fan base are receiving unprecedented attention from European clubs, whose pockets are deep.

Differing schools of thought exist over the league's role in the continued development of U.S. soccer. Some, like Twellman and Garber, say MLS has clearly proved its worth.

"I think the World Cup showed that the MLS is doing something right," Twellman said. "With half of the World Cup team being from the MLS and with how well they did, obviously the MLS is producing players."

Others, including Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, acknowledge the importance of MLS in fueling the U.S. program, but say a balance must be struck between keeping players home and sending them overseas.

"They're not mutually exclusive. It's not an either/or," said Cirovski, who coached Twellman both at Maryland and with the U-17 national team.

"We can't have all our good players going over to Europe, but, also, I think players getting experience at that level [is valuable]. The important thing is that when a player goes to Europe, he's got to be in a position to play."

That's not a position in which Twellman found himself when he left Maryland for Munich after his sophomore season. He was sent straight to one of the club's reserve teams and never got more than a glance from the first team's coaching staff. Frustrated, he returned to the U.S. after deciding not to pick up an option following his second year overseas.

"It was a dream come true for me when 1860 Munich called and offered a contract," said Twellman, who should start for the MLS All-Stars today as they take on players from the U.S. national team at RFK Stadium in Washington.

"Granted, some people say, `Well, it wasn't a great decision,' but for me personally it was a good decision."

He said he's thought about going back to Europe somewhere down the line, but for now he's concerned solely with continuing to break onto the MLS scene.

Through the season's first 20 games, he has a league-leading 34 points on 15 goals and four assists. He's become a feared player both in the air and with the ball, and though New England is one point out of last place in the Eastern Conference, Twellman said he's savoring every moment.

"I'm having fun," he said. "That's all I'm trying to do is have a lot of fun and enjoy all the playing time that I can get."

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