Twellman's curious praise for roughhouse soccer

I have been pondering an important soccer question. If you were a season-ticket holder with a big club and found that, seated next to you at every game, there was Taylor Twellman, or someone like him who knew everything and never shut up throughout the entire game ... how long would it be before you attempted to throttle him? Or at least, requested a different seat?

I’ve calculated that my own tolerance would last about 10 minutes. I do not like being lectured when I am trying to enjoy myself. An occasional comment or two, that’s fine, but to be the passive recipient of a 90-minute monologue -- I can’t see much fun in that.

Possibly, some people might. Actually, I might, if what is being said is informative, witty, and helps my enjoyment of the game. Why not? Because that’s not what happens.

Treating MLS Is Back as something unusual, to be approached differently, I decided to listen to the commentators. Something I haven’t done, not on a game-long basis, for years. Enter Taylor Twellman.

Actually, Twellman was one of the reasons I stopped listening. Way too many words, far too much pseudo-technical talk, plowing on regardless of action in the game. I have long found the technical approach to soccer something that invariably complicates rather than clarifies. OK, some people will disagree, will find, in Twellman’s explanations, enlightenment where I find only gobbledygook. So be it.

But I had reason to think I was ready for Twellman. Up to a point. The wordiness was still very much there. But there was something else, quite new to me. It started near the beginning of the NYCFC-Philadelphia Union game, and continued right through to the end.

It started 15 minutes in. Twellman was praising Jose Martinez, a new player with Philadelphia, for keeping NYFC’s Maxi Morales quiet: “I think Martinez is a player that many people in Major League Soccer but especially Philadelphia Union fans are going to be very appreciative of - it looks eerily similar when you watch him on tape and you listen to Jim Curtin talk about a Diego Chara-type of signing. It took a lot of people a while to get used to Diego Chara, to appreciate it, a part of that is because Diego Chara will kick his own kids if he has to, but you need someone with that bite ... but also with the simplicity of moving the ball in between the lines and Martinez looks the part so far.”

Yes, I’ve followed Chara’s MLS career. Not a player I admire. A spoiler, a midfield rottweiler who -- like all such players -- evidently enjoys physical contact. This is not a matter of players who are not afraid of contact, but rather of players who actively seek it.

Twellman knows all that and knows that the praise he is awarding Martinez is praise for being a violent player. As we saw in the 34th minute when Martinez flagrantly kicked Morales from behind and earned himself a yellow card.

Did the foul inflame Twellman, did he condemn it? Not really. A terse remark about “losing it” was balanced by referring to Martinez having “the energy and bite to get stuck in.” Twellman’s co-commentator Jon Champion had his say: “Martinez does sail a little close to the wind in terms of discipline and maybe one foul too many,” lukewarm criticism immediately brushed aside by “he’s a player with a lot of good attributes.”

Good attributes. Unspecified, though evidently from the darker side of the sport. When Martinez was subbed out late in the game, we got this revealing exchange:

Champion: “But every team needs one of those ...”

Twellman: “ ... oh, you need more than one. You need a destroyer, you need someone that puts fear in the opposition, especially in those creative players.”

Remember, Twellman himself played as a much-fouled creative player - a very good goalscorer. He knows the harm rough play can cause, having been forced into an early retirement by concussion injuries. But his insistence on excusing rough, rule-breaking play came up again in the 89th minute when Philadelphia’s Jakob Glesnes got yellow-carded for breaking up a NYCFC counter by hauling down the NYC player. Which Twellman immediately excused, implying that Glesnes had no option: ”He was left with no decision whatever. Good tactical foul there.”

Quite a game for Twellman. From the unpleasant suggestion that Chara wouldn’t mind kicking his own kids, through the assertion that you need “a destroyer” to rough up “those creative players,” and so on to his praise for a blatantly illegal tactical foul.

And The Beautiful Game, Taylor? What happened to that?

19 comments about "Twellman's curious praise for roughhouse soccer".
  1. cony konstin, July 16, 2020 at 10:57 a.m.

    Soccer in America is an abomination. We need radical change. We need a soccer Revolution in the USA. We need 600,000 futsal courts so kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and no adult interference. We need a Rucker’s Park soccer environment. We need to create Courts of Dreams. You build them. They will come


  2. P T replied, August 13, 2020 at 5:22 p.m.

    thank you

  3. David Ruder, July 16, 2020 at 10:59 a.m.

    I think Paul Gardner is comparing the MLS  to the English Premier League or First Division, perhaps out of kindness. A better comparison would be the 2nd or 3rd Division caliber of play that is much more physical than the top tables. When Taylor Twellman played in the MLS, it was his kind game and a good fit for him. He was aggressive, a great attitude and the will to win all the time. What he lacked in talent he made it up in other "attributes".  As a commentator, he follows the typical American sportscaster model of lots of explanations technical comments, and statistics. This is what Americans want to hear at this time. Perhaps years from now, when soccer becomes better understood and appreciated by the masses they will also like the more laid back British style of calling and commenting on the game. Personally  I enjoy the latter style of announcing, but I can understand where Taylor is coming from. 

  4. frank schoon, July 16, 2020 at 11 a.m.

    Right On Paul! Not listening to our soccer commentators is also a good move for they have very little to say that's insightful. Taylor Twellman is one of those who say absolutely nothing. And I disagree with Paul's description of Twellman having been a creative player on the basis of having been a good goal scorer. Being a good scorer or a good defender doesn't make you a creative player just like the German goalscoring machine, of which Twellman couldn't wear his jock, Gerd 'der Bomber' Muller. 

    Taylor's comment reminds me of some coaches who complain that their team,' lack hustle, lack fight, lack spirit, not enough fire in the belly, not enough emotion....". Note the descriptions...nothing insightful about game aspects, itself, like how the opponents' manner of play created a cascade of negative effects upon his team which the coach failed to specifically notice. Anyone can notice a team playing bad, but very few can exactly explain WHY they are playing bad and that takes a special ability called 'SEEING' the game. 

    The ability to SEE the game is not gifted to Twellman. SEEING  the game comes in degrees for everyone, and Twellman is on the low end of the scale as our commentators are regardless of  playing experience. Cruyff is on the high end of SEEING. And when you listen to Cruyff explaination about a game ,he breaks it down, chews it up and lays it all out, the WHO, WHEN and WHY's  . But then Cruyff was a CREATIVE player and who won't ever say, "we needed to kick butt" for that is too Neandertha too simplistic..

    Taylor's assertion of needing an 'ass-kicker' at midfield is simplistic and it reflects his lack of deeper understanding of the game like my example of the coaches' NEANDERTHAL explainations. Frank Rykaard ,the former AC Milan, Ajax and Dutch great ,former coach of Barcelona and Dutch NT, once stated, " I don't measure the amount of sweat a player produces as a guage of how well he played" NEXT POST....

  5. beautiful game replied, July 16, 2020 at 4:52 p.m.

    Frank S., your comment on Mr. Twellman is spot on.

  6. beautiful game, July 16, 2020 at 11:22 a.m.

    Thank you Paul as always. From the first day Twellman entered the MLS TV commentary booth, it was clear that he is there to give his personal in-depth opinions about the players on the pitch. Ninety percent is castigation or praise, and maybe ten percent about the nuances and tactics of the game. The "he could/should have" or he didn't" or other winded commentaries are his trademark. When the game speaks for itself, he tends to take control of speaking for it as so many commentators do. Twellman has a lot to learn about soccer in order to become more informative for the novice fan. 

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, July 18, 2020 at 10:16 p.m.

    Loved that last line, BG.

  8. frank schoon, July 16, 2020 at 11:40 a.m.

    Granted , you do need at midfield as we say in dutch a "ballafpakker", someone who is good at stopping an opponent with the ball. They are also called 'watercarriers' ,hard workers who work a little extra, covering some of the attacker's defensive duties in order for the attacker to save energy. For example, you have a great leftwing attacker, therefore you make sure he doesn't have to spend too much time on defense in order to conserve his energy for attack.

    One way to conserve the leftwing's energy is too force the opponents, who like the buildup an attack from the back, allowing them to build up on their left side, the opposite side of the  leftwing.
    Or another way to save energy is to tell the leftwing, too move a couple of steps closer towards opponent's rightback forcing the goalie to think twice about giving the ball to the Rightback. Or tell the leftwing to take the throw-ins in the opponent's half for then he's the only attacker not covered and will get the ball back on the second pass and  facing downfield. Or the leftwing always positions himself in a manner between his man and the opponent directly in line behind him ,blocking the passing lane and therefore obviating having the wing to run back on the defense. But how often do you see a midfielder or attacker look behind him as he moves forward on defense.

    Or, once the opponents goalie gets the ball, the attacking #9 should not turn around but immediately go after the goalie who will often kick the ball out sooner then if you let him go to the edge of the penalty area before kicking it upfield. This results in the ball not travelling as far upfield meaning less running and work for the midfielder....

    There are many more aspects , as aforementioned,  that is smart and INTELLIGENT. The smarter a team the less need for fighting and muscle work. This is how the Dutch survive in soccer ,Internationally, for Dutch soccer are not known for fighting but for good soccer.

    The problem we have is that our passing game is LOUSY. Just look at how often our passing game results in 50/50 fighting balls, duels which means "MUSCLE" play, NEANDERTHAL soccer...Twellman, having grown up in that type of soccer lacks the ingenuity to understand the finer elements of the game and sees "MUSCLE" as the alternative....

  9. Michael MacFaden, July 16, 2020 at 11:45 a.m.

    Mr Gardner is spot on. Now I suspect Twellman and those other FS1 announcers probably got their jobs from bosses that expect that by emulating American Football announcers they'd be popular with American fans. Sadly FS1 soccer announcers for me have not been able to get near or much less  hit the target of informative and insightful live game commentary. So then Mr Gardner who would you prefer calling these games? For me its a no brainer -- Danielle Slayton and Chris Dangerfield.

  10. Jeffrey Forrest, July 16, 2020 at 12:49 p.m.

    As A retired Youth coach, I completly agree with Paul on 'hustle' players.  And as Soccer Fan, I can't stand Twellman as a commentator, and will instead watch the Spainish broadcast (and learn some Spainish!)

  11. beautiful game replied, July 16, 2020 at 4:55 p.m.

    Bravo Mr. Forrest.

  12. Peter Bechtold, July 17, 2020 at 1:23 a.m.

    Paul G.: Thank you,thank you,thank you. I have been suffering from Taylor Twellman's constant interruptions, self-importance, his insistance of showing how much he knows--he thinks--and carrying on while an important counter-attack is happening. For the life of me I cannot understand how the gentle Ian Darke puts up with him during international matches.
    Fyi, I am not a TT hater; I followed him when he played striker at UMaryland,where I taught,  and then 3rd-tier 1860 Munich. He does know quite a bit and is quite useful for his contacts wiith MLS players via Twitter. But he ruins my enjoyment of the game, as you describe so well in your first sentence, PG. Is there some way by which we could start a campaign to inform his employers that he should NEVER be allowed as co-commentator for soccer matches. I would suggest that he be given a radio slot by himself.

  13. Bob Lowrimore, July 17, 2020 at 8:39 a.m.

    I refereed for many years, primarily at the youth level.  I knew I was in for a rough game when one team was clearly superior to the other.  The less skilled team would quickly turn it into a brawl because they had no chance if they played high quality soccer.  I personally tried to protect the skillful, creative players and teams so they could play the way the game should.  Many refs would agree with Twellman and see brute force as part of the game.  I suspect a pro team that needs a destroyer in midfield believes they have no chance in a fast well played game.

  14. John Soares, July 17, 2020 at 12:46 p.m.

    Mr. Twellman sadly is not alone.
    They must really hate it when the game interrupts their chatter 

  15. Kevin Leahy, July 17, 2020 at 3:04 p.m.

    I turn off the sound on all games except Ray Hudson because, he makes me laugh. That includes the Premier League.

  16. R2 Dad, July 17, 2020 at 5:49 p.m.

    The sad reality is that american TV/cable "management" detests the quiet, dead air that is preferable during exciting moments in a match, not valuing the excited fans who are filling in with their own narration during that moment. Maybe if they were better observers of human nature would they understand their function in the drama.

  17. Kent James, July 19, 2020 at 12:13 p.m.

    PG is clearly right to be appalled at commentators who praise defenders who hack (Eric Wynalda, ironically another foward, used to do the same thing).  On the other hand, a crucial component to any successful team is commitment to play your best regardless of the circumstances.  PG rightfully praises skillful soccer, but anyone who's ever played recognizes sometimes skillful players don't put as much effort as others (often they don't need to), or are unwilling to take physical risks, or do boring things like get back to play defense.  And I think PG underestimates the value in this.  The best players (Messi, e.g.) are the complete package.  But sometimes people who are not blessed with sublime skill can help their team by being better at the less beautiful aspects of the game.  This is in line with PG's dismissal of defense (has PG ever written a column praising the play of a defender?).  These are important aspects of the game that should be valued.  If you commit to a 50/50 ball, and the other team does not, you will win it, and if you win enough of them, you will improve your chances of winning the game.  While I will never praise illegal play, and I hate it when commentators talk about players who bend (or break) the rules in an effort to "intimidate" their opponents, commitment and effort are the basic ingredients of successful teams in any sport, and should not be overlooked.

  18. frank schoon replied, July 19, 2020 at 12:35 p.m.

    Kent , people who are not blessed with skills, are the 'water carriers' for players like a Messi.
    These watercarriers, the work horses, are just as important to the team as a Messi for he would not be the player if he had to run his buns off and fight on defense....Like Cruyff stated to Romario when he played for his Barcelona 'Dream Team"." I got you to score goals, and not to run around like crazy, so just hang around the penalty area and we'll get you the ball." 

    And You're right ,it  is all about commitment and effort. This is why you expect Messi to not stand around doing his nails if his direct opponent has the ball, but try to at least make it difficult for him to give a nice pass, by cutting off a lane or cut down the space....

  19. Bob Ashpole replied, July 19, 2020 at 11:57 p.m.

    Kent, there are smart players and skillful players, and then there are players who are neither. In my experience it is the latter that spends more time running to make up for mistakes. The smartest players consistently seem to just happen to be in the right place rather than chasing the play.

    The bottom of the pyramid is different as teams are more of a mixed bag resulting in everyone running more to make up for mistakes. 

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