CINCINNATI -- Taylor Twellman came to the Queen City last week in what he called a showing of respect for what FC Cincinnati achieved in its record-breaking inaugural United Soccer League season.
The ESPN soccer analyst and former professional player served as the emcee for a town hall meeting with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, who visited Cincinnati Nov. 29 to evaluate it as a potential expansion market.
Twellman’s presence just solidified how serious a candidate Cincinnati has become in the race to secure one of the last four or five remaining expansion spots. Best known for his play with MLS club New England Revolution from 2002 to 2009, he was the youngest player to score 100 goals in MLS at age 29 in 2009. He was a five-time MLS all-star and the league MVP in 2005, and he earned 30 caps for the U.S. national team.
Since retiring, he has become an active media member covering both MLS and U.S. national team competition for ESPN. After meeting with various media outlets in Cincinnati to discuss the cities with MLS hopes, Twellman sat down with WCPO.com for an exclusive interview on various hot topics in the soccer world.
Here is a look into his vast wealth of knowledge on the game:
Q: What did you think of the decision to fire Jurgen Klinsmann as coach of the U.S. men's national team?
A: Jurgen was hired to push some buttons and open up the thoughts and minds of others in U.S. Soccer, and when you look at it, I think he did that. It was interesting to me when he got an extension before even stepping foot on a World Cup field. I had never seen that before, heard of that, so that told me (U.S. Soccer Federation president) Sunil Gunati was putting all his eggs in one basket. But it's difficult, and this isn't a Jurgen Klinsmann criticism, it's general. Your second cycle as a national team coach is extremely difficult.
Around the world, we've seen that historically it's not easy -- your messaging and players and whatever it is. And, I think after the World Cup they showed it a little bit. They lost to Guatemala, they lost to Jamaica in the Gold Cup, losing to Mexico. They lost three times in Copa America, and yet we celebrated the Copa America semifinal appearance. I think Sunil looked at it and said the time is right and moved on, and I think Jurgen is professional enough to look at it and say, "Coaches are hired to be fired." I wouldn't be shocked if five or six years down the road a couple things Klinsmann brought up aren't manifested or we're still talking about it -- like (when he stepped down from) Germany in 2006 and then they won the next World Cup. He had some great ideas.
Q: Do you agree with the re-hiring of Bruce Arena?
A: It's a Band-Aid job. I don't care what anyone says. He's a guy that's a known entity. He's been successful in CONCACAF, so I think Sunil looked at it and said, "I need someone who is going to right the ship" in eight games, and that's why Bruce was brought in.
Q: Why do you think the USMNT has fallen into this funk?
A: I think from the outside looking in -- but I've covered the team now for five years -- the team atmosphere doesn't feel like they are all on the same page. Some players will read that and say that's not true, but just looking at it and talking to a bunch of players in that locker room, it doesn't seem that camaraderie is there to push that team through. It's one thing the U.S. has always had -- and we can get into developing players and all that, but that's a different discussion -- but this team right now, I'm not sure they are all on the same page. Or, I'm not sure they are all comfortable enough to be successful as a group. Individuals are, but as a group, I don't think they are all on the same page.
Q: You mentioned how MLS was created in 1996 to help the men's national team. Would there be more unity if players all came from that league or is the development in Europe more valuable for development?
A: I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to that. I think as Landon Donovan proved, Europe wasn't the right decision for him at the time, but looking at Christian Pulisic, for him, it is. For Michael Bradley, it was good to go over there, and now he has come back. I don't think it matters. The players just need to be pushed, and they need to have pressure on them, and that's part of the growing pains of Major League Soccer is having two players deep at every position because that creates pressure. To say you can't be successful for the national team if you're playing MLS, that's just naive because that's undermining whatever individual we're talking about, and who's to say that individual can't pull it off. Robbie Keane came to L.A. Galaxy and actually scored more goals for the national team in Ireland than he did when he was playing at (English Premier League clubs) Tottenham and Liverpool.
Q: Is there a place on the U.S. men's national team for players with dual passports like Cameron Carter Vickers and Christian Pulisic?
A: 100 percent. Who am I to say who's American and who's not? If you want to play for the Red, White and Blue, and you qualify for it and your heart's in it, I could care less where you were born. I don't think it matters. I've heard some people have comments about that, but I think it's wrong because who is to say Jermaine Jones isn't an American?
Q: Bob Bradley recently picked up his first win with Swansea City. What do you think about him as the first American to coach in the English Premier League?
A: Bob told me eight years ago, "I'm going to coach in England." When Bob puts his mind to something, he is going to do it. If Bob was at all interested in the national team, I think you would have had an interesting discussion whether Bob or Bruce is a better fit for getting the team through (World Cup) qualifying and ready for the World Cup. But, Bob has worked for this. He's had the goal, and I have the utmost respect for a guy that puts his mind to something and does it and maximizes the opportunity. I will say this, I'm just not sure Swansea has enough quality to get him through.
Q: Is there an English Premier League team that you think FC Cincinnati would benefit from bringing in for a friendly?
A: I don't know. It depends on where they are in the regular season. I think we're at a stage now where the FC Cincinnati fan would show up for a friendly and know whether that's the first or second team. We're past that stage where it's just getting a team to come over, so I think when a team comes over, they need to bring their players, because otherwise I think the American soccer fan would say, "I'm not going to that game." I don't think it matters who it is. Crystal Palace sold out, so it just matters that the teams show up and treat the game properly.
Q: Does soccer need to become a winter sport here to get on the European schedule?
A: That is a topic of discussion, but I was in Montreal and they got eight or nine inches of snow and they had to play in the Olympic stadium. It's just not as easy as everyone says. Ideally, of course, you want to be on the same schedule as everyone else, but Germany takes six weeks off in the middle of winter. It's a topic of discussion, but anyone that says they should just switch it now, they've obviously never been in pro sports or even looked at MLS to see how they could pull it off.
Q: This is the first MLS Cup final without one of the original 10 teams. How much has MLS grown since 1996?
A: It's about time. We're in the 21st year, we've had multiple expansions. It's about time. And, I think it's important that Canada is represented in MLS Cup because those three teams are extremely important to the growth of the sport. You look at Montreal/Toronto, over a million viewers. That says a lot. It's important, but part of me is also, like, it's about time.
Q: It's taken a while to get there, but how much stronger is the league now?
A: Yeah, but people forget in 2002 this league lost two franchises, so they had to get their ducks in a row. Phil Anschutz, God love him, he owned how many teams? There was a growing period there from like '02 to '07, so I think it's one of those where you have to appreciate that growth, and now look at where it is and where it's going to go. I think we'll all look back on 2002 and say, "You know what? It's a good thing that happened, because they fixed it."
Q: Since promotion/relegation doesn't seem likely in the near future, how can we better connect the U.S. Soccer pyramid to help MLS draw better viewership without taking away from lower-tier clubs?
A: That's the question ESPN, FOX and Major League Soccer are trying to figure out. ... How do you get Nashville people, for example, to watch Major League Soccer games? Even just look at MLS soccer cities, when the Colorado Rapids are playing the New York Red Bulls, how many Major League Soccer cities are watching that game? You've got to find a way to make each game that much more important. Naturally, people say it's promotion/relegation. That's not necessarily the case regarding TV ratings. I know Don Garber has mentioned this. I know a bunch of owners have mentioned this. It's a big topic of discussion, because when you create pressure, more people will watch, but I'm not sure how you get Nashville to watch the New England Revolution against the New York Red Bulls. If I knew that answer, we wouldn't be sitting here, because ratings would be higher and more people would be watching it. It's a real discussion and it's something MLS has to deal with and that's part of its growth as well. If there are 28 teams, how many local communities around, if it's a USL team in Nashville that's feeding a player into maybe Atlanta's system, well, now you've created more MLS interest in that franchise.
Q: Should goal-line technology and other technology be part of the game?
A: I'm struggling to see how we don't have it. I find it odd. I know it's expensive and things like that, but if we are going to use replay at all in our sport, it has to be used for goals. England-Germany in the 2010 World Cup, (England's Frank) Lampard hit under the bar (and the would-be game-tying goal wasn't counted) and they go down the other way -- you just can't miss a goal. Goal-line technology in 2017, in my opinion, is a must.