- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

America's World Cup "strike force" minus the injured Clint Mathis will be on display at RFK Stadium today when the national team takes on Major League Soccer's best in the latest variation of the league's All-Star Game.

You saw the clever "strike force" commercials on ESPN in July. You know the names: Brian McBride, DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan and Josh Wolff. Great talent. Great World Cup. Pity they can't score more goals in MLS.

One player who can is rookie forward Taylor Twellman, 22, who will start today for the MLS All-Stars. The New England Revolution star has scored as many goals (15 in 20 games) as the combined four members of U.S. coach Bruce Arena's available "strike force" (15 goals in 46 games).

Twellman, a first-round draft pick (second overall), looks to be a future piece in the U.S. team's offense. With a league-leading 34 points on 15 goals and four assists, he was an easy pick for the All-Star Game.

"It's an honor and a recognition of my teammates for giving me the ball at the right spot at the right time," Twellman said. "If [the Revolution start] winning, I'll enjoy being an All-Star a lot more."

Twellman's story is similar to Donovan's. Both left America for professional careers in Germany's Bundesliga and spent nearly two seasons playing for their club's reserve team which is nothing to sneer at, considering the competition.

Donovan returned from Bayer Leverkusen to join MLS last year and stole the show at the 2001 All-Star Game, scoring four goals in a 6-6 tie. Twellman returned from 1860 Munich in January and, like Donovan, finds himself an All-Star in his debut season. He believes today's game is unlikely to be as open as last year's match.

"Usually these games are [high-scoring] games, but I don't think it will be that way this time," Twellman said. "I don't think Bruce [Arena] is going to let the national team come in and relax."

Although playing overseas was tough, Twellman learned some important lessons.

"I was humbled over there," said Twellman, who headed to Germany after his sophomore year at the University of Maryland. "There are 30 professionals trying to make that first 18. They taught me to play as simple as possible. If you can't make that 5-yard pass, you shouldn't be on the field."

Twellman seems to have put those lessons into practice with the struggling Revolution (7-12-1), where he has developed a successful offensive partnership with the league's assist leader and fellow All-Star, Steve Ralston (five goals, 15 assists). He hopes his efforts will catch Arena's eye.

"If he calls me, I'll work my rear end off for him," Twellman said.

Hard work has become a trademark for the St. Louis native, who scored 115 goals for his high school and helped lead the Terrapins to the 1998 NCAA semifinals.

"He's the hardest-working forward in the league," teammate Jay Heaps said. "His talents and instincts come alive in the box. There are not too many forwards who, once in the box, can bury those balls."

One coach accused Twellman of being a "goal poacher," but the hustling forward fights for every ball and works hard to create his own chances.

"I like being in the middle of a handful of defenders," the 5-foot-11, 179-pound Twellman said. "I like to kick people and be a pest."

Twellman admires English stars Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, but in Germany he was influenced by Martin Max and 1800's consistent goal scorer and 1990 World Cup star Thomas Haessler.

The advice he received in Germany was clear: "They told me, 'Let the midfield get the ball to you, but in the box that's your area to do your job.'"

Twellman's confidence may stem from his rich sports pedigree. His father, Tim, and two uncles played in the North American Soccer League. His grandfather, Jim Delsing, played the outfield for 10 years with five major league teams, including the New York Yankees.

At Saint Louis University High School, Twellman also was a baseball player, batting .429 and stealing 14 bases in his senior year. He turned down a contract with the Kansas City Royals to enter Maryland on a baseball scholarship. At College Park he blossomed as a soccer player, leading the Terps in scoring for two seasons.

Now Twellman already has made MLS history, becoming the first player to score a goal at CMGI Field in Foxboro, Mass., where the Revolution play. It's likely Twellman will make a little more history before his MLS career is over.

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