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?