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MLS - May 4, 2019

ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman, who went to high school in St. Louis, says he was blase in his comments when he was playing. But he now is one of the most outspoken announcers on the air in any sport. "This is more of who I've always been," he says. "For better or for worse."

Taylor Twellman used to excel with his feet. Now he makes his living with his mouth, and he sure is good at using it to make a point.

Twellman is ESPN’s top soccer analyst and will be calling the Toronto-Seattle Major League Soccer championship match Sunday, which will air on sister network ABC. He also is an unabashed supporter of St. Louis, where he went to high school (SLUH) after having migrated from city to city as a son of Tim Twellman — a professional soccer player from St. Louis who was with pro teams in the Midwest and Southwest.

The younger Twellman gave the St. Louis sports media plenty of fodder last month when he tweeted that there was a “STRONG rumor floating around in recent weeks that” the NFL had offered St. Louis the Los Angeles Chargers franchise.

He told “Media Views” this week that his information came from sources that had given him a scoop before about that NFL team.

“The rumors have been floating around for a long time,” he said. “To bring it into perspective, I’m also the one who broke the story that the Chargers would play at the LA Galaxy stadium.”

That’s the MLS facility where they’re temporarily located, after having moved from San Diego in 2017. Next year the Chargers are scheduled to be a tenant in the stadium Rams owner Stan Kroenke is having built in Los Angeles for the team he moved out of St. Louis four seasons ago.

The Chargers have generated little interest in LA since arriving, and the story of a possible departure still had legs this week, when London was brought up in a story by The Athletic as another relocation destination. That prompted team owner Dean Spanos to make it abundantly clear that St. Louis, London or Timbuktu are not in his plans.

“It’s total BS,” he told reporters in Los Angeles, using the words, not the initials. “We’re not going to London. We’re not going anywhere. We’re playing in Los Angeles. This is our home, and this is where we’re planning to be for a long (expletive) time. Period. OK? And if you want me to say it again, I’ll say it again” using a string of expletives about that story. “OK? Thank you.”

Twellman, 39, stands by his tweet.

“There was a subtle discussion about the Chargers being offered to the city of St. Louis, and from all accounts the city of St. Louis declined,” he said in our interview.

He indicated that St. Louis’ numerous legal victories against the NFL regarding the Rams’ departure for Los Angeles were a factor in his contention that the league could have been trying to appease the jilted city.

“I think that lawsuit is the bigger conversation,” Twellman said. “I think it was more of a conversation, ‘how do we avoid that lawsuit?’”

Twellman is equally outspoken about soccer, as he was in 2017 after the U.S. men’s national soccer team lost to Trinidad and Tobago to assure it would miss the next World Cup tournament.

“This is an utter embarrassment with the amount of money that is in Major League Soccer,” he said on ESPN. “And in this sport, you can’t get a draw — a tie — against Trinidad? You don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.”

Iceland made the World Cup field and the U.S. did not, further infuriating Twellman.

“Iceland is the same size as Corpus Christi, Texas, or Anaheim, Calif.,” he said. “They can figure it out. If the United States can’t figure it out, then (it has) no business being involved.. . . How can we not figure this out? How can the United States not figure this out?”

There was more.

With the billion dollars-plus that is going into Major League Soccer and youth development, that should have never happened. And it did. Every single person should look themselves in the mirror — and by the way that includes myself,” he said. “I’m part of U.S. Soccer. I played for the program. The gloves should have been off years ago.”

A more pleasant topic

Twellman has supported the St. Louis effort to get an MLS franchise throughout the process, and said he had a wild reaction when he found out that the ownership group — Jim Kavanaugh of World Wide Technology and the Taylor family of Enterprise Holdings — had been awarded the team.

“I screamed as loud as I could because I know what it’s going to mean to that city and all of the Taylor Twellmans who are 8, 9, 10 growing up in that city,” he said. “When the NFL left, it (created) a real opportunity for that city to be younger and more vibrant. I think the Taylor family is going to do a great job of building a facility downtown that’s going to do that.

“It’s going to be a special moment for a lot of generations because soccer has been at the heartbeat, the fabric, of that city for a long time.”

He compared the value of an MLS team to St. Louis to the relationship the Cardinals have with their young fans, using former Parkway Central High pitcher and current Washington Nationals standout Max Scherzer as an example.

“For Max Scherzer growing up going to Cardinals games, it gives you a real taste of what that is,” he said. “Now for all those young soccer players to actually see it and live it and to become the first St. Louis kid to play for that team — that’s hard to put into words.”

Twellman, a former MLS most valuable player who now is a high-profile and well-connected national soccer commentator, did some lobbying on behalf of the St. Louis effort during its quest to land a team. But he played down his role in the effort.

When you do something you believe in and you love, and know it’s going to work . . . I just helped push the ball across the line,” he said, adding that “I’m just glad (the stadium plans) are public now because I’d been sitting on that for a while.”

Twellman added that he doesn’t plan to have much involvement in getting the team off the ground. It is scheduled to begin play in 2022.

“I’ve got a job with ESPN, that’s all I’m doing,” he said. “I’m available for a lot of teams, and if the Taylors need anything they have my number. But they don’t need that much help, they’re doing just fine.”

A Bull Durham type

Twellman is articulate and opinionated, perfect for TV. But that wouldn’t necessarily lead to a lot of friendships as a player.

“I think if you ask any of my ex-teammates or coaches or family members, I think there were times like, ‘All right, dude, we get it. We get it. We get it.’”

So he said that wasn’t his public style as a player.

“I was a lot like Bull Durham when I played, gave the same (bland) quote. I didn’t trust myself to be very open all the time because I didn’t want to give bulletin-board material to the other team,” he said. “I didn’t want to put a teammate or coach under the bus. I was very plain, very Bull Durham cliche-ish.

He certainly takes the opposite approach now.

“This is more of who I’ve always been,” he said. “For better or for worse.”

Changing course

He made the transition from the field to the booth after his playing days were cut short.

“My career ended abruptly. I had no choice whatsoever with post-concussion syndrome,” he said. “When I broadcast my first couple games, I’m not saying that was easy. But being around the field, talking to players and coaches and trying to do it on TV, was fun. That was easy for me. … But learning the craft, I’m 10 years in and still learning. That part doesn’t come natural. But it is an addicting profession for me. It’s eerily similar to being a professional athlete.”

He hints he might have something newsworthy to say Sunday, either on the game telecast (2 p.m. on KDNL, Channel 30 locally) or on an ESPN “SportsCenter” appearance beforehand.

“There are a lot of moving parts in the sports world, and in the soccer world especially,” he said. “Sunday may be an opportunity if something comes through.”

As they say in the business, stay tuned.

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