FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Taylor Twellman doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do so considering the devastating nature in which his remarkable career came to a premature end. Forced to hang up his boots after only nine seasons – the last two of which consisted of just two substitute appearances – because of the debilitating head injury he suffered in 2008, Twellman was robbed of the thing considered most precious among professional athletes: the chance to leave the game on his own terms.
Considering the circumstances, Twellman could be forgiven for harboring feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment.
But that’s not Taylor Twellman.
“I’d love to sit here and talk to you about how mad I am, how ticked off I am that an injury cut my career short at the age of 28,” said Twellman, who is now 30 years old. “But it’s not who I am.”
Instead, Twellman used Wednesday afternoon’s press conference – in which he announced the end of his playing career – to recall his favorite memories and celebrate what he called “the time of his life” during his nine-year career in New England.
In typical fashion, Twellman captivated a room filled with current and former teammates, coaches, club staff members and media with stories ranging from the hilarious to the heartbreaking.
There was the time during the 2002 MLS Cup Playoffs when his teammates pulled the popular “Flexall in the sliders” prank, which provided Twellman with a jolt during pregame warm-ups. There were the countless hours spent playing cards in the back of the bus on long road trips and journeys to and from the airport. There were even the agonizing memories of four MLS Cup final losses and the way in which the shared pain among teammates forged a bond beyond words.
Twellman cherished them all.
“I did something that I love and that I was born to do, and I got paid to do it and have fun,” he said unbelieving and with a shake of the head. “Honestly, wrap your heads around that. All I can say is, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Twellman was indeed born to play soccer. More specifically, he was born to score goals.
Perhaps more so than any American forward before him, Twellman was blessed with the innate ability to put the ball in the back of the net, and he did so in a Revolution jersey more than 100 times to place himself sixth on Major League Soccer’s all-time goal scoring chart. With almost 100 fewer appearances than anyone else in the conversation, there’s little doubt Twellman would’ve eventually risen to the top of the list had he remained healthy.
Combining a perfect blend of skill and determination in front of goal, Twellman earned the respect of everyone who played alongside or against him, whether for years or mere minutes.
“We were among one of the all-time greats,” said Jay Heaps, who was Twellman’s teammate in New England from 2002-09. “His clinical ability in front of goal, how he was able to score goals – it was unmatched in this league.
“I think back to what he brought to our team and knowing that I was on the field with a player like that, it made me play better,” Heaps continued. “You knew that if you played the way you could, (if you) played up to your potential, Taylor Twellman was going to be the difference maker. And that’s what he did every time he stepped on the field. He was a difference maker.”
“In my opinion, Taylor is the best American goal scorer this league has ever produced,” said LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who played with Twellman on MLS All-Star teams and with the U.S. National Team. “It’s unfortunate that his career has to come to an end in this manner but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to play with and against Taylor and learn so much from him.”
While Twellman will always be remembered for his accomplishments on the field – which include four MLS Cup appearances, five all-star selections, two MLS Best XI selections and the 2005 MLS MVP award – it’s his selfless nature away from the field which has had the most impact on his teammates.
“You can talk about all the soccer stuff and his achievements on the field, but I think just the way he is as a person and carries himself on and off the field is something that a lot of MLS players and professional athletes all over can take note of,” said Chris Tierney, who grew up idolizing Twellman from the stands before becoming his teammate in 2008. “He’s kind of been my role model and been a role model for a lot of guys in this league. We’re sad to see him go, but he’ll definitely leave a great legacy.”
For fans of the New England Revolution – or simply American soccer in general – Twellman’s legacy will forever be remembered.
But for Twellman, it’s not the legacy that matters. It’s the jokes in the locker room. It’s the friendships formed.
It’s the memories.
“I’m not talking about 100 goals,” said Twellman as he reflected on his stellar career. “I’m not talking about any trophies I won, we won – doesn’t matter. Memories last a lifetime. Trophies, awards, all that – they collect dust.”
While Twellman is left with a lifetime of memories, so are those who had the pleasure of watching him leave it all on the field every time he pulled on the jersey.
Thanks for the memories, Taylor.