Profile: ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman

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Profile: ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman
Jul 31, 2018

The trip was already scheduled.

Taylor Twellman, ESPN’s lead soccer analyst, had planned a golfing trip with his friends in the days after the North American World Cup qualifying tournament.

It seemed like a safe bet. The United States men’s national team had qualified for every World Cup since 1986, and of the 27 possible scenarios for the final day of the tournament, 26 had the U.S. in the tournament.

But on Oct. 10, 2017, one day before Twellman’s trip, the U.S. lost to last place Trinidad and Tobago, failing to qualify for the World Cup and forcing Twellman to miss his golf trip, and instead spend the next 72 hours on various ESPN channels analyzing the ramifications of the defeat.

“The gloves should have been off years ago!” Twellman said. “We should have been having real criticism. And the discussion after Brazil…was ‘Can we beat the Colombias and the Belgiums and the Argentinas of the world?’ You kidding me? We can’t beat Trinidad on a field that’s too wet and too heavy? What are we doing? What are we doing?!”

Twellman might not have the answer, but the long-term contract he signed with ESPN in 2014 to become their lead soccer analyst shows they trust him to be the face of their soccer coverage.

Taylor Twellman speaks at a Major League Soccer event in Cincinnati in May 2018. (Photo: Hayden Schiff)

Growing up in St. Louis, Twellman was a multi-sport star athlete, excelling in both soccer and baseball, as well as being a scratch golfer. The Kansas City Royals of the MLB even offered him a contract out of high school in 1998, which Twellman seriously considered, until his father pointed out what he would be sacrificing.

“And right then I said to the Royals, ‘With all due respect, I can’t give up soccer and Maryland just yet,” Twellman said in a phone interview.

He made an immediate impact for the Terrapins, leading the 1998 team in scoring with 40 points, sixth most all-time on the school’s single season points chart. The Terps made it to the semifinals that year, the furthest they had advanced since 1969, and Twellman was named a second-team All-American.

The Terrapins lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament the following year, but Twellman was just as good, finishing second for two different national player of the year awards. After only two seasons at Maryland, he decided to turn pro.

Just 19 years old at the time, Twellman signed with the German team 1860 Munich in Germany’s top league. He spent two years with the team, but never received any playing time.

Despite the experience not working out as well as anticipated, Twellman has no regrets.

“Looking back on it, Germany roughed me up a little bit and was actually perfect for me at that time in my life,” he said.

After those two years, 1860 Munich offered him a two-year extension, which Twellman contemplated accepting. But one week later, on Sept. 11, 2001, Twellman learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

“Sept. 11 was the reason I came home from Germany and played Major League Soccer,” he said. “I think I just recognized that I was proud to be an American. I wasn’t playing at 1860… In order for me to get out of there the only way was to go to MLS.”

Just 21, Twellman turned down the contract extension, making himself available for the 2002 MLS draft, where the New England Revolution took him second overall. He immediately established himself as a top player, scoring 23 goals and finishing second in the MVP voting.

Twellman maintained his high level of play for five more years, winning one MVP and making five all-star teams. He became the youngest 100-goal scorer in MLS history in 2009 at 29 years old.

Yet everything changed after a mid-air collision with an opposing goalie in August 2008, which altered his career permanently.

The collision gave Twellman a concussion, which he believes was his seventh. The lingering symptoms affected him for the rest of his career. He played only two more games over the next two and a half seasons. On Nov. 3, 2010, Twellman announced his retirement from soccer.

“The hardest part about this injury is that I can do zero about it and that is the most humbling thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” he said at his retirement press conference.

Yet the retirement didn’t take Twellman away from soccer; instead, it simply changed his focus. In 2011, he created the THINKTaylor foundation, a charitable organization meant to increase awareness of and education about concussions.

“As a professional player, you become ambassadors of the game after your career,” Twellman said in a 2015 interview with Diane Scavuzzo. “The game of soccer, it doesn’t stop when you retire.”

Twellman stayed involved in other ways; he continued working for ESPNU, which he began while playing for the Revolution. Yet despite his vast knowledge of soccer, his broadcasting career started with some stumbles.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Twellman said. “I didn’t know what replays were, I didn’t know when to talk, I didn’t know what to talk about.”

But the difficulties didn’t dissuade Twellman, who looked at them as another obstacle to conquer.

“I think the best part about broadcasting for me is that it really is a challenge,” he said.  “ESPN threw me right into the deep end and tried to see if I would sink or swim, and I think that worked for me.”

He continued his work as a broadcaster, working games for Comcast SportsNet New England before joining ESPN in November 2011.

Just three years later he signed an eight-year contract to be the lead analyst of ESPN’s soccer coverage. The length of the deal, one of the longest at the company, showed the confidence the network had in him, and the long way he had come.

Twellman was on television non-stop during the recently concluded  World Cup, breaking down games and the moments that changed them. He was seen nightly on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, another Maryland alumnus.

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