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Taylor Twellman rises to number one American soccer analyst


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.

SEE MORE: ESPN raises bar on Euro 2016 TV coverage to a beautiful art form

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.

Placating the ”soccer snobs,” those fans who take their inspiration from European soccer and prefer a certain cadence and style while at the same time not losing faith with those Americanized fans and writers who see promoting all things MLS and USSF as a cause, is a tricky balancing act that Twellman has pulled off. How? By giving honest critiques of the US system and MLS without the type of incendiary language and angry rhetoric that characterizes some critics of the domestic setup. Twellman rightly promotes MLS where he can for the things they do well but criticizes them for other areas where they can and must upgrade.

Using Twitter wisely even if it involves breaking stories that might offend some in the US soccer community, it’s something Twellman has learned to do very well. For example in April, Cyle Larin of Orlando City SC was apparently fouled in the area by New York’s Karl Ouimette but no penalty was called. The moment was decisive in the Red Bulls 3-2 win over Orlando and was met with criticism from FS1 match commentators John Strong and Alexi Lalas. However, the next day Twellman pointed out the officiating crew had erred before the non-penalty call by not flagging Larin for offside to begin with.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Euro 2016 games on US TV and streaming

It’s this attention to detail and unwillingness to challenge conventional wisdom or established narratives that makes Twellman so good at his job. His ease of conversion from matchday co-commentator to studio analyst and knowledge of world football at all levels has been on display during this European Championship. Often seeing angles in the match others don’t, Twellman has repeatedly given unique insight into player movement, body language and tactical considerations that others either don’t observe or simply choose to avoid discussion of. No holes barred typifies his style of analysis while combining well with Ian Darke on match commentary and other ESPN studio personalities including Mike Tirico, Bob Ley, Michael Ballack, Julie Foudy and Roberto Martinez among others.

Twellman has provided what many fans of soccer in the United States long have sought – an intelligent, authoritative voice on the sport with an American accent. His work has also dispelled many lazy stereotypes fans of the sport had about American commentators who played the bulk of their careers in MLS. Fans of the sport can hope Twellman is the first in a breed of savvy and sophisticated American analysts of the world’s game.

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  1. The Wizard

    September 4, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Twellman does have an MLS bias, which is understandable, but give him credit … he does his homework and is well prepared. No one is misidentified and no Law of the Game is incorrectly interpreted. I’ve watched many games over the last 20+ years with Tommy Smyth (“Smith with a Y”) providing the color commentary where it seems as though old Tommy just showed up, possibly with a couple of pints under his belt, and went on the air. Soccer fans in the U.S. just aren’t going to accept that level of mediocrity in 2016.

  2. Michael

    June 28, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Twellman was hard-nosed central striker who managed to score goals with ease during the Rev’s “Buffalo Bills” run….losing final after final. It was a great time to be an early Boston soccer fan…and they even played on grass! Now, I just cannot watch MLS on fake grass, with the Revs one of the last hold-outs. Though rumors persist of a downtown stadium……please plant grass!
    Bob K….how much does it cost to bring in sod for the international games? Please let the game be played on grass…kudos to our USWNT’s “no carpet” effort in Canada, despite being rebuffed at the end.

    He is a good on TV for two reasons: 1) he is not ugly, and 2) he is not stupid. That’s more than I can say for many trying to make their way in their profession…and as far as biased? I cannot watch the real homers anymore than I can watch the same crap on NFL coverage. Try to find a neutral voice out there in any sport…it is difficult. So relax if Twellman is proud of his MLS….he was an integral part of its early struggles & successes. He does his homework, he tries very hard to be prepared….just like he approached the game when he was gracing the grass at the old Sullivan Stadium!

  3. CTBlues

    June 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    When Twellman was at the video board with Ballack analyzing Germany with and without Gotze and Twellman did an amazing job and was basically ahead of Ballack which could be that English isn’t Ballack’s first language.

  4. Clayton

    June 28, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    I usually only watch European football, so I’m a little unfamiliar with American commentators, but from what I’ve seen, you could do a lot better than Taylor Twellman.

  5. Rob

    June 27, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Good article, Twellman has grown into a broadcaster however Twellman does still tow the line with the interests of MLS. Just look at his reaction of Sebastian Giovinco not being called into the Italian team for the Euros. Mr. Twellman was on a 18 month campaign to validate MLS. Antonio Conte made a statement about MLS which seemed to get under Twellman’s skin. Seems unprofessional to some. That was before the Euros and now since Italy is playing amazing Mr. Twellman now has “so much admiration” for him.

  6. Zack

    June 27, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    I’m not a huge fan of Twellman (I personally prefer Macca during a Darke game) but he has risen to the occasion for Euro 2016.

  7. The Auditor

    June 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Yet again this author is forwarding his agenda into these pieces. He writes:

    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.

    Yet this writer does just that himself many times over on this site:

    Not to mention pot-shots in other articles with nothing to do with domestic set up.

    Who is fanning the flames? I think I know who is. ESPN & Fox don’t waste time that topic. It’s not worth it. They are delivering matches to audiences in the millions. Domestic set up ‘truthers’ number in the low hundreds.

    The author has such a problem with the ‘domestic set up’ he has to make it point to inject it into this article on multiple occations.

    The only ‘angry rhetoric’ about that aspect comes from one person.

    • TheTruth

      June 27, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      I must admit I agree. This is getting very annoying. I hope this feedback is taken seriously be those who are in charge of this site. The quote that you pulled from the article clearly was forced in there for outside reasons.

      • TheTruth

        June 27, 2016 at 5:34 pm

        Seems to be that he is using this website as a medium to shoot down MLS in favor of the NASL since he works for them. Get over it Kartik, MLS is the #1 league in the country and it is here to stay. If NASL and MLS were both important at this moment in time they would both die as there is not enough interest in the American game yet.

      • Muko

        June 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm

        “I hope this feedback is taken seriously be those who are in charge of this site.”

        Translation: I don’t agree with this opinion, so I wouldn’t mind if the person expressing it was, you know, silenced in some form or another. Your own agenda is showing, son!

    • spoton

      June 27, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      Agree with this post and I am not an MLS or NASL fan but this author is always pushing the same agenda everywhere and also seems to be the self appointed expert on commentators.

  8. Alan

    June 27, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Great article, could not agree more on Twellman, he has grown into a broadcaster because just lie he did as a player he works at it.
    As for Fox they need to start over, looking forward to Kartiks review of last nights ” analysis” from the hapless ones !!

  9. FC St. Pauli

    June 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    The timing of the Copa on FS1 and Euros on ESPN just after a full year of the Premiership on NBCSports really highlights differences in commentary.

    I’d thought NBC left ESPN in the dust with their intelligent analysis and beautiful optics (everything from the advertising to the non-match soccer programs–such as the Crystal Palace series), but the Euros have been great. Twellman, like Martino, proves it’s possible to be a reasonable American analyst. Markgraf has also been quite good (though her fellow commentator’s “YEEEEEEEEEaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasss” has got to go).

    Fox is nearly unwatchable. It’s not just the blowhard, crass analysts who have little to share apart from lazy quips and tired halftime suggestions (e.g., “the US needs to mark Messi and get their big backs in the box to get on the end of set pieces”) but the commentary is also poor. Landon Donovon was the most reasonable, and he’s rubbish compared to the worst of NBC or ESPN, which shows just how poor Fox is, top-t0-bottom. It’s easy to pick on Lalas, and I’d typically just ignore poor analysis, but I found an online British stream last night just to avoid Fox’ team.

    US ratings must somehow allow Fox to compete, or else they’d have been canned years back, but I truly hope Fox can learn from NBC, as ESPN clearly has. If nothing else, intelligent commentary and analysis educates youth on the game. It’s fantastic that we’ve got more games on TV than they get to see in the UK, but Fox’s team is an embarrassing representation of the fan base here in the US.

    Fiore, Lalas, Holden, and Wagner have the effect and know-how of a(n American) high-school football coach filling in for the JV soccer team. Their awkward anger and bizarre inability to discuss the US/Argentina match for 15 minutes post-match was a perfect representation of how poor their coverage is (watch Macca, it’s perfectly possible to be a fan AND provide reasonable analysis).

    Fingers crossed that NBC’s brilliance is supported by the ratings, and that we’ll still be fortunate enough to be treated to 4 or 5 well-presented English matches a week in 5 years.

  10. Jayoh

    June 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Yeah, great article Kartik. I absolutely agree.

  11. James

    June 27, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    Totally agree with your article, I also think Kyle Martino is doing a good job on NBC. He keeps it safe where Talyor will push it more, but he’s excellent at reading the game as well, and as the lone American voice I think he does a very good job

  12. Kei

    June 27, 2016 at 11:22 am

    I’d honestly go as far as to say that he’s the only American soccer voice with any degree of credibility (which he possesses in abundance). Dude actually knows what he’s talking about, and frankly, that’s all we can ask for.

    • Justin

      June 27, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Landon Donovan was outstanding IMO during Copas. He can be a great color man down the road. Loved his insights. It was obvious the info he shared was from a players perspective and refreshing from anything else I heard. Especially from other FOX people.

      • Tim

        June 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Loved LD. Always speaks his mind and has a lot of perspective to offer.

      • Kartik Krishnaiyer

        June 27, 2016 at 12:16 pm

        Agreed. He’s the one standout positive about FOX right now.

    • Fulhamish

      June 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Worth noting Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan show much promise.

    • autumn daversa

      October 13, 2016 at 11:12 am

      praise jesus :]

  13. Lawrence Dockery

    June 27, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I’ll admit that when Twellman first started working for ESPN (I think back in 2012) I did not care for him at all. I even called him a muppett. But he has grown on me tremendously. Agree with this piece 100%. Best American voice in the game.

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