- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 17, 2006

Soccer fans worldwide are transfixed this month on the happenings in Germany, the host nation of the World Cup.

Taylor Twellman’s mind often drifts to thoughts of the same country, but for a different reason. It was there the striker began his professional career. He left the University of Maryland after his sophomore year for a stint with TSV 1860 Munich that ultimately cemented his approach to the sport.

Not that it was a smooth time for Twellman, who spent two seasons overseas before returning to the United States in 2002. He never escaped the club’s reserve squad, enduring constant criticism from perfectionist coaches and teammates.

And though he has since emerged as one of MLS’ finest players — earning MVP honors a year ago with the New England Revolution — he frequently refers to the impact his time in Europe had on his own development and his ability to cope with disappointment, such as his surprise exclusion from the U.S. World Cup roster.

“Looking back on it, it was extremely vital for me to have that experience of being a nobody and coming into a situation where you’re one of the 34 players trying to make the starting 11 week in and week out,” said Twellman, whose club plays host to D.C. United tonight. “It was very important to me. If I had gone the Project-40 route after my success with the under-20s, I don’t know if I would have been humbled the way I should have been.”

The German experience jolted the player who had thrived at Maryland before turning pro at age 19. Some games he would score two goals, only to have his caustic coaches and older teammates tell him he was the worst player on the field.

When Twellman approached his coach and offered to play any position, he found himself at right back the next game. Though undeniably strange for the forward, it wasn’t nearly as vexing as his inability to earn opportunities beyond the reserve squad. With the club limiting the places he could go in Europe, Twellman opted to come home.

“It was a struggle, but now I look back on it and I’m like, ‘There’s something there,’” Twellman said. “They wanted 90 minutes of perfection.”

Twellman, whose family tree is littered with professional athletes, developed some of his humility early. His grandfather, Jim Delsing, spent parts of 10 seasons in Major League Baseball, and his uncle, Jay Delsing, competes on the PGA Tour. His father, Tim, played for the Minnesota Kicks and two other teams in the old North American Soccer League.

Tim Twellman has served as a sounding board throughout his son’s career. He was one of the handful of American players to thrive in the NASL and he knew throughout his career he would be judged as much on his last game as anything else, an awareness he passed on to his son.

“He’s just maturing as a player and just from his own experiences in the game, you see the game better and then you’re physically mature and you’re able to play the sport at a higher level,” Tim Twellman said. “You can see that coming with him all the time.”

But fans didn’t get to see it in Germany this month. The World Cup snub was arguably Twellman’s biggest setback since returning to the United States, especially because it was perhaps American coach Bruce Arena’s most surprising roster decision.

The charismatic striker scored three goals for the national team in a friendly with Norway in January and added a goal and two assists less than a month later against Japan. Yet it wasn’t enough to get him on the World Cup squad when it was announced early last month.

A day later, though, Jim Delsing died after a long fight with kidney cancer, bringing Twellman home at a time he didn’t want to dwell on a professional disappointment.

“My grandfather’s death really in a weird way helped me deal with it. …,” Twellman said. “It was a very tough decision. I don’t know anything else I could have done. So the decision was very hard. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it, but it’s just a matter of moving on.”

That starts with the Revolution (3-4-3), who sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Twellman, in the final year of his contract, again leads New England with four goals.

But after this season, a jump back to Europe — perhaps to England or back to Germany — could be possible, adding another dynamic to an already textured career that is far from over.

“When I went home for my grandfather’s funeral, it was the first time everyone was together and the first time everyone went out on a golf course since I was probably 11 and we all just sat there and talked,” Twellman said. “And my uncle said ‘Taylor, you’re only 26, and you’ve been playing for seven years’ and I didn’t really think of it that way. I still have a long way to go and a lot of room for improvement.”

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