Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.
For Taylor Twellman, you could say soccer is in his blood. With a father and two uncles who played professionally in the North America Soccer league Taylor was destined to follow and he did, first at Maryland on an athletic scholarship, leading the team to the Final Four as a freshman, then two years later being drafted second overall by the New England Revolution. This five-time MLS All-Star scored 101 goals, the most in Revolution history, and helped set a new standard for success in the league. With enthusiasm equal to that he found on the field, he next created the THINKTaylor Foundation, dedicated to generating awareness and support about sports-related concussions. Today, Taylor brings all that passion to ESPN as well, as the network’s lead soccer analyst. The Overhead Compartment caught up with Twellman to kick around his life on the road, while steering clear of any yellow cards. (Top Photo credit: Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)
The Overhead Compartment with Taylor Twellman begins now….
OC: Your birthday is February 29th so, how old do you consider yourself to be?
TT: Well mentally my age has always been questioned haha, but when you think of my birthday it makes complete sense. I will be turning 9 this winter and every “real birthday” of mine, my family has thrown a special party for me. Renting out a hockey rink, surprises, etc all come to me every 4 years. The best part is there are no rules, so I celebrate my birthday on off years on the 28th and 1st, and on real years the WHOLE week. (yep still a kid)
OC: You played in the MLS for many years, all for the New England Revolution. What was traveling with a group of soccer players like?
TT: I used to call the team “A Camp for Kids…Run by Older Kids”. Grown Men traveling the world to play a sport for a living….everything you are thinking about right now is exactly what happened but more. In saying that, soccer in MLS is the least extravagant of all professional sports in the USA. We fly coach for 95% of the time, per diem is minimal, hotels are simple and very few if any are making money where they can retire when they are finished. (This is changing as we speak) But to play a sport for a living is very hard to describe, because sports for so many people were ‘dreams’, but for us that made it and played it….it was our “dream job”.
OC: What was your favorite stadium to play in the world?
TT: Dortmund Germany(Westfalenstadion) over 80% of the stadiums fans sit behind both goals….can’t tell you how imposing that was with the European type atmosphere, etc. But commentating games now, there are so many wonderful atmospheres that fans need to go out and see and I’m not just talking “soccer fans”. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City in MLS…Liverpool, Manchester United in England and so on and so forth.
OC: What city has the most passionate soccer fans?
TT: The funny thing is there isn’t JUST ONE. All of them have their own identity and their own insecurities as fans. They all have their traditions and their scars, so I would never say one passion is more/less than another and it’s not a cop out either to the question, but the beauty of soccer is in each and every single identity with each individual club/country.
OC: What was a typical day like, on the road, as a professional soccer player?
TT: As a player, it was all about preparing your body for the task at hand. A professional players “meal ticket” was his/her body because that was everything. Eating, training, sleeping, watching was all part of your week so on gameday you got to enjoy the day. Wake up, drive to stadium, eat and prehab/rehab before a 10 am training, lunch, nap, watch game, walk dogs/lift weights then dinner. Day off I always played a round of golf to get me “away” from soccer and to this day, I play about 75 rounds a year.
OC: Did you keep a special diet or eat anything?
TT: Nothing really “special” but watched what I ate and drank. Soccer players a lot like swimmers, burn a ton of calories and run around 5/7miles a game, so food was key but needed to eat too.
OC: Top three favorite restaurants in Boston?
TT: Tico: a fun atmosphere for food, drinks & music w/ American food w/ a Latin American influence (tacos and side dishes are unreal), Doretta: a Mediterranean flavor with a great scene and bar, and NeBo: for the best Italian/pizza before a Celtics/Bruins game or even a night out.
OC: You now work as ESPN’s lead analyst for soccer and your travels take you all over. What is your favorite city to visit on a road trip?
TT: Anytime I get to Europe for a USMNT game its something special and even more importantly a story attached. USA vs Ukraine was played in Cyprus due to unrest in Ukraine…USA vs Ireland in Dublin…and I could go on and on on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my continental travel for MLS as I have been to cities more than I ever would have been if not for the games. Portland, Seattle, KC have all really become great cities supporting the game and putting on a show the entire weekend.
OC: How do you spend your down time?
TT: GOLF….GOLF…GOLF. Nothing better to me walking 18/36 holes, turning my phone off and just competing, but enjoying the walk in nature as well. Travel takes a lot out of me and with my post concussion state, I really try to workout in some form or another. Living in Boston has really been a wonderful place to play/live and fortunate enough to have made so many great connections and friendships to enjoy my down time.
OC: What are the top three golf courses you have played anywhere in the world?
TT: I have been extremely lucky meeting so many interesting people through my travels, but more importantly those that want to golf. I’ve played some great places but keep in mind if I am picking my top 3, it’s about the EXPERIENCE. Yes the golf is important but the ambiance, golf, people, energy all goes into my equation. Because of my family’s history of golf (uncle on PGA tour for 20+yrs) I always had an appreciation for the “history of the game”. No doubt I’ve enjoyed my experiences at all the TPC spots in this country. Whether it’s the Country Club in Brookline, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills or even Torrey Pines, those courses were special for me to play considering my uncle has competed there, and just the stories those places can tell are amazing. Simple, nothing extravagant but special places and experiences for me to have had (very lucky).
I have just as well been very surprised with some of the new places that I’ve experienced as well. Liberty National GC in NJ is so underrated for me and a surreal experience I’d live there, (credit to the Fireman family for hitting a home run). However if someone asked me “you can pick 1 spot to play the rest of your life”…..WHISPER ROCK GC in Scottsdale, AZ. The food, the people, the locker room, the weather, the milk shakes, the staff, the facilities, the golf you name it it is an A++++. I tell my good friend Jeff Fujimoto all the time, if they need someone on the course 365 days a year to schmooze and play golf with people on a last minute notice, don’t lose my number. It truly is heaven on earth for me.
Photo credit: Kyle Rivas/ESPN Images
OC: What golf course that you’ve never played is on the bucket list?
TT: Augusta. No need to really explain why. I’d consider giving a body part to play there, hahahahaha.
OC: First thing you do when arriving at a hotel?
TT: Unpack. Immediately turn on the shower let the steam build and unpack my suit/shirts to freshen them up. Traveling so much I try to make it as comfortable as possible and not “living out of a bag”.
OC: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you on a plane?
TT: Naked guy on a plane while flying makes you wonder if you are drunk/dreaming. Crazy experiences from naked guy to “mile high club” on international flights to sitting next to celebrities but this story takes the cake.
OC: You have a foundation called THINKTaylor that boasts awareness and educates about concussions. What do you think about the use of head-gear and should it be worn at all levels and all sports?
TT: Easily the most asked question for me is about head gear and its introduction into soccer. I played with 3 guys that used headgear and all 3 had to retire due to concussions. The problem is for many parents/athletes, they think that means you are ‘protected’. There is no head gear whatsoever that will stop concussions as the NFL has proven that and more importantly, too many people are misinformed about concussions because they think headgear would help. “If you shake an egg as hard as you can the shell won’t break but does the yolk change?!” That is the best analogy I’ve ever used for helping those understand better about the effect of a concussion on the brain, not the skull. In saying all of that, if an athlete wants to wear headgear when he/she is asymptomatic then I encourage it 100%, but they better understand that they can still get a TBI.
OC: How about the movement to ban heading in youth soccer?
TT: Amazing to me the outcry for athletes under the age of 11. The ‘act of heading’ is a real issue in soccer and the athletes under the age of 11 are at a real risk of sustaining a head injury when their brain is the most vulnerable. Teaching the fundamentals and skill of heading will need to be addressed still but with a softer ball and a limit of them before they mature.
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without ___________________ .
TT: Cell phone. My entire life is on my cell phone and if I’m ever forgetting something important, it’s on my cell phone as a back up.
OC: You were drafted by the Kansas City Royals but chose to go to University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship where you played for two years before going on to the MLS. Was it a tough choice between baseball and soccer?
TT: Wasn’t drafted but offered a contract out of high school to play for Royals. Crazy thing is that I was always asked when did I make the decision to play soccer over baseball, and I never consciously made that decision, but this moment ultimately was that time. I never played baseball again after my workout for the Royals/Mets/Cardinals in STL before going to college. I wouldn’t say I regret it, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it time and time on “what if”. Baseball would have been a real grind and very difficult to get to the majors, but I had never lifted weights and played baseball year round so I will always wonder what if….then again, not sure we are having this conversation if I did choose baseball.
OC: What would you advise kids today that want to play professional soccer?
TT: My advice to kids in general is don’t get caught up in the future and all that pressure but enjoy the process, enjoy the moment. We are not guaranteed tomorrow and I think with all the pressure on these kids on such a young age, I think we’ve lost the opportunity to help our kids go thru struggles and trials and lose the teaching moments. Just because a coach says you aren’t good enough or you fail a test doesn’t mean your life is over and more importantly, doesn’t mean our parents need to fight our battles for us. (I don’t have kids so take all this with a grain of salt)
OC: Will the American men win the World Cup in your lifetime?
TT: Yes, but we are far from it.
OC: What will it take to raise the American men to the level of the top world powers?
TT: This country has grown so much over the last 20/25 years yet so much of our country is still stuck. Our youth development hasn’t progressed to where it should be and there are so many factors at it, but the biggest issue for our players right now is the pay to play system. On average, it costs players $2500 to play a high level of soccer and that number doesn’t include travel. Our youth development is about making money, NOT developing players for the national team, which leads to so many other problems namely lack of quality coaching.
OC: One thing nobody in the world knew about me until right now is ___________.
TT: I’m the smartest person in the world. (I love giving my opinion, but realize that I’m not always right and open to change).
Taylor Twellman, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!