American soccer voices are often criticized in some quarters while being defended as a “cause” in others.
The idea of American commentators at a major international event is either seen as parochial to an American audience or simply out of place by many hardcore observers of the sport. At a time when FOX Sports appears to have made the Americanization of soccer punditry and analysis a network priority, rival ESPN has found the right mixture of commentators and outstanding American voices. FOX’s approach has created defensiveness among many in the American soccer intelligentsia while NBC Sports’ heavily-anglicized coverage of the Premier League has won plaudits from those who disdain the Americanization of coverage. ESPN, with its vast resources and decades of covering soccer, has sought a middle ground that is exemplified by Taylor Twellman.
Perhaps it is a glass ceiling that was never meant to be cracked but Twellman has become the an American pundit that not only doesn’t seem out of place at a table with foreign soccer analysts, but perhaps is even the smartest one in the room. Twellman’s brand of analysis is highly informed and factors in both psychological and tactical considerations in a way few others do. Also, as we’ve seen in MLS, USMNT and Euro 2016 broadcasts, his ability to read the game is second to none. Of particular note is his exceptional way to anticipate particular strengths or weaknesses that are exposed from dead ball situations such as free kicks from outside the area.
One of the all-time leading MLS goalscorers, Twellman’s broadcast career began after persistent concussions forced him to retire after the 2010 season at age 30, having not played that year. Having competed in four MLS Cups and a Copa America tournament, it seemed a typical background for an American former player seeking television work. But Twellman has proven to be far beyond the typical American analyst of the sport.
The playbook for an American soccer commentator is to either tow the line with the interests that govern MLS and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) or to take extreme positions attacking those entities. Twellman has been able to balance both those divergent viewpoints and interests by speaking his mind without fear of repercussions, while adding a level of analytical thought to broadcasts not often seen on English language coverage of soccer in the United States.