FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Taylor Twellman wasn’t paying much attention to the details of the first-ever New England Revolution jersey he held, handed to him as he stepped onto the stage just moments after being selected with the second overall pick of the 2002 MLS SuperDraft.
It’s a whirlwind moment, being drafted, and at the time Twellman was a 21-year-old coming home after spending the first two years of his professional career in Germany. He had a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove that he’d made the right decision when he left the University of Maryland after his sophomore season to pursue his dream of playing pro.
So when Twellman’s name was called, he unthinkingly took the jersey that was handed to him. Bulbs flashed and he began posing for photos, first with MLS commissioner Don Garber, and then with Revolution head coach Fernando Clavijo.
As they stood posing for photos, Clavijo turned to Twellman with a knowing grin.
“Did you see the number?” Clavijo smiled.
Twellman furrowed his brow and glanced down at the jersey he’d been holding. Emblazoned on the front was a white number outlined in red, just below the club wordmark: 20.
“Wait … is this my number?” Twellman asked.
“Yeah,” Clavijo said. “Your dad wore 20. Why don’t you wear 20?”
Twellman had worn the number three his entire life – whether soccer, baseball, or basketball; youth, high school, or college – honoring his grandfather’s favorite number. But defender Rusty Pierce had laid claim to the number three shirt in New England, meaning Twellman had to find something new.
That decision was ultimately made for him by Clavijo, who had played alongside Twellman’s father, Tim, both in the NASL and indoors during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tim Twellman wore the number 20 with the Minnesota Kicks from 1977-81, during the time Taylor was born in Minneapolis.
“I don’t feel like my father got enough credit for the kind of career that he had in the NASL, when Americans didn’t play as much because it was a foreign-based league,” Twellman said. “For that to be my first number back in the United States, it meant a ton to me that it was my dad’s first number as a pro, it was the number he wore when I was born, and that number was always special.”
It also resonated with Twellman that Clavijo, who sadly passed away in 2019 after a lengthy cancer battle, had been thoughtful enough to provide such a personal touch with a young player.
“For Fernando to personally connect with me on that, it meant a ton,” Twellman said. “I’m not going to lie to you, that’s like top two or three moments in my Revolution lifetime because it really hit home.”
And he means it literally hit home. Twellman said to this day his mother, Moochie, tells people that when asked his favorite numbers as a child, he would say both three and 20, although he claims not to remember that detail. But knowing what it would mean to both his mother and father, he immediately picked up the phone after Clavijo presented him with the number 20 in New England.
“I remember calling and I go, ‘Mom, they gave me 20,’ and she screamed,” Twellman recalled. “I can’t tell you what she screamed, but you guys can figure it out. It was so cool to hear the meaning of that number, to what it meant to my dad, and ultimately to my mom. It’s pretty cool that I got to wear it, I’m not going to lie to you.”
The number 20 also holds special meaning for A.J. DeLaGarza, but for different reasons. Upon joining a new club team, the Baltimore Bays, as a teenager, DeLaGarza was simply handed the 20 jersey.
“I was the new guy and that’s what was available,” he said.
But something clicked, and DeLaGarza was wearing the number 20 when the Bays won a pair of national championships at the club level. So he wore number 20 in high school, and was twice named all-state in Maryland. So he wore number 20 in college, where he won a pair of NCAA National Championships with the University of Maryland. So he wore number 20 with the LA Galaxy, where he won three MLS Cup titles and a pair of Supporters’ Shields.
That success bonded DeLaGarza to the number, and he wore it during additional stints with the Houston Dynamo and Inter Miami CF, meaning by the time 2021 rolled around he had donned the number 20 almost every year for 20 consecutive years.
“I think when I look around as a free agent, I try to go to teams that don’t have a number 20,” DeLaGarza joked.
Upon signing with the Revolution this past January, DeLaGarza checked the Revolution roster and noticed that the number 20 was unoccupied, but he also knew why. Twellman had been a star at the University of Maryland six years before DeLaGarza’s arrival in College Park, so their paths were somewhat intertwined. DeLaGarza knew that Twellman had been a Revolution legend, scoring 101 goals in 174 appearances, far and away the club’s all-time leading scorer. He knew the place Twellman held in Revolution history.
“He was a very good player, good finisher on the national team, so guys were very aware of him,” DeLaGarza said of his time with the Terrapins. “Obviously watching him through the Revs and the national team, he was a phenomenal player and obviously gave everything he had. He was someone you admired when you’re at Maryland.”
When the Revolution’s equipment manager, Scott Emmens, texted DeLaGarza to welcome him to New England and ask what number he’d prefer, he was honest, but realistic and thoughtful.
“I said, ‘honestly, I’ve been number 20 my entire life, but I understand that 20 might be pretty high in significance to the club,’” said DeLaGarza, who was told the number 20 had been “unofficially retired” in New England since Twellman last wore it in 2009. “I know what he means to the Revs organization, and from the jumpstart I told Scott, I know how sacred it is and I totally respect it, and I just had to find another number.”
DeLaGarza immediately sought help to find a new number, taking to Twitter and asking fans for suggestions on which jersey to wear. In that same tweet, DeLaGarza acknowledged Twellman’s significance to the Revolution and his association with the number 20 in New England.
For the first time since I was 13 years old, I will be wearing a number other than 20. I fully understand the history and importance of 20 to this club and fellow Terp, @TaylorTwellman. Hopefully, I can have half the success he had at @NERevolution regardless! Help me pick a #? pic.twitter.com/YUwuboujkN— AJ DeLaGarza (@AJD_20) January 14, 2021
Twellman was floored by the gesture.
“When I saw the tweet, I literally put my phone down,” Twellman said. “It was unreal.”
Once he’d composed himself, Twellman hopped on FaceTime with several family members to relay the news that the Revs were still holding the number 20 open, and he says several people on the call – himself included – struggled to hold back the emotions.
“I don’t know how to describe it, to be honest with you, because I still get choked up, I still get emotional thinking about how quickly it ended, and it means a ton,” Twellman said, referencing the head injury that derailed his career at 28 years old in 2008. “I don’t want anyone to think that I think I’m bigger than the game, or I think my career with the Revs is bigger than anything they’ve done, because that is so idiotic and so farfetched.
“But for that to be – I don’t know – just to be respected? My word, man. It means a ton. It actually means more to me than any Hall of Fame recognition, anything else that I do. I wore 20 to the best of my ability for the Revs, and no one has worn it since … It means more than I think people know.”
DeLaGarza, for one, seemed to know, and Twellman is beyond grateful.
“A.J. is a first-class human being, but he’s also a first-class winner,” Twellman said. “He’s won multiple times in this league. He has maximized his playing career, more so than I think a lot of people at the time when he was drafted thought he would turn into this type of player. It’s just no surprise that a former University of Maryland Terp carries himself with that class. I was speechless.”
There was, of course, still the matter of DeLaGarza needing a new number, and Twellman thought it would be fun to chime in with a suggestion of his own. He replied to DeLaGarza’s tweet, proposing the number three – a reference to DeLaGarza’s three MLS Cup titles, but also a subtle nod to Twellman’s own history with the number.
DeLaGarza loved the idea – going so far as to tell Emmens he'd chosen the number three – but when Alexander Büttner left the club and freed up the number 28, DeLaGarza had a change of heart as he began to piece together the significance of that number in his life.
Most notably, DeLaGarza’s firstborn son, Luca, had been born on August 28, before tragically passing away just one week later, the result of a rare congenital heart defect. Luca’s life inspired DeLaGarza and his wife, Megan, to found Luca Knows Heart, a casual lifestyle brand whose mission is to raise awareness for congenital heart defects and to support those affected.
One year after Luca’s passing, A.J. and Megan welcomed their first daughter, Noelle, whose time of birth was 8:28, matching up with Luca’s August 28 birthday and a sign he was there with them in spirit.
The choice was clear.
“It just made sense for me,” said DeLaGarza, who also noted that he wore number 28 during his freshman year in high school. “It’s come full circle, I guess … That’s why I changed it from 3 to 28. It just makes sense to go 28 and see how it plays out.”
As for Twellman, his closet features countless Revolution jerseys with the number 20 he wore from 2002-09, but he’ll soon be adding a few more jerseys to his collection, with a new number on the back.
“I can promise you one thing – my two daughters are going to have number 28 Revolution jerseys in about two seconds, more so because I know what 28 means to A.J. and his lovely family,” said Twellman. “I’ll be buying a 28 jersey as soon as I can.”
“I’ll have to send him some myself; I won’t make him pay for those,” DeLaGarza said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the number. It’s about the name on the front and playing for the Revs and the organization, and hopefully I can have a career like Taylor did at the Revs.”