Wynalda: Twellman's turnaround
and Twellman, specifically -- scoring goals? This team has scored more goals than any team in MLS the past two years, but this year, they haven't put it together yet.
If you've watched the Revolution's games recently, you could blame the service he's getting from his midfield. To be honest, the service to the forwards stinks. That's not to say they're not capable of being better with Steve Ralston and Joey Franchino on the flanks. It's just that this year when they've had their opportunities, that final pass just hasn't been good enough.
A huge reason why the Revs aren't scoring, oddly enough, is their defensive posture. New England lost its first game against Los Angeles 3-2, and the team's reaction from that game is apparently to not get stretched, to not get scored on.
That mindset is affecting the style that has made them effective over the last two years, and it proves that playing tentatively does not work in Major League Soccer. This team has been good on the break, but it's hard to be good on the break when you try and counter 70 yards from goal. This team is better when they press their opponents and pin them in their own end and force mistakes, and they're not doing that anymore.
Also, New England has proven to be one of the better teams on set pieces, free kicks and corner kicks. But lately, Jose Cancela's determination to be on all free kicks and his occasional poor decision-making in the midfield have disrupted the flow of a normally very direct Revolution attack. Free kicks sailing over the bar and corner kicks landing harmlessly in the hands of goalkeepers will not get it done.
Another possible problem is the Revs partnership -- or lack of a partnership -- up front. Joe-Max Moore, when healthy, has got to be one of the easiest forwards to work with in the league. His work rate, his passing ability and his quality from free kicks and set pieces makes him Twellman's ideal partner up front. Pat Noonan, thanks to last year's success, is trying to fill the spot vacated by the again-injured Moore, but it might be a little bit too much to expect from last year's rookie of the year candidate.
The thing is Twellman is a good forward. He's good in the air. He makes all of the near- and far-post runs, and he usually has the ability to be in the right place at the right time, which is something no one can teach. His instincts are his greatest asset, but lately, maybe Taylor is overthinking things and trying a little bit too hard. That's an easy thing to do when the team as a whole is not having success.
If you're going to make this about Taylor Twellman, and you're going to say that it comes down to how he finishes, and how he plays, I don't think that's too much pressure for him to handle.
This is a guy who scored almost 40 goals in two years. The bottom line is he needs to start finding the net for his team to be successful. Strong performances with the Revolution are the only chance he has to put on the U.S. national team uniform again. A lot of people were excited about his performance as a substitute against Mexico a few weeks ago, myself included. I think that's the best he has played for the national team and for Bruce Arena.
If Arena is looking for the next Brian McBride, I don't think Twellman fits that mold. As a soccer player, he might be a little bit better. Twellman is not a back-to-the-goal forward. The challenge for him now is to prove to Arena that he can be because that's the way Arena likes to play. Twellman is better with freedom, the kind of freedom he gets when he plays for the Revolution. He's faster than people think. He's a better passer than people think, and he's a better thinker on the field in the flow of the game. In front of the goal, however, he just needs to stop thinking and start finishing.
It's easy to see something's wrong with Twellman. Maybe he knows how important it is for him to play well this year -- and right now, particularly -- if his dream of going to the World Cup is going to come true.
There are a lot of things to think about and maybe even a lot of reasons to worry about Twellman, but I, for one, don't think this slump will last long. Taylor's turnaround is imminent.
This week against the MetroStars is a great opportunity for him to get back on track. He was a little unlucky not to score in the past two weeks against Colorado and Columbus, and the visiting MetroStars have proven that they are susceptible in the back. If New England goes back to their strength -- direct play and finding Twellman four yards from the goal, not 40 -- this could be a pretty good game.
This week's other match-up: The ESPN2 crew is going to attempt what might be unprecedented in MLS: Covering two games in two days. We'll be making our way to Chicago for Sunday's 4 p.m. ET match between the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew. Columbus won a game last week, which ought to take a lot of pressure off Greg Andrulis. Against New England, the Crew played well, but I can't figure out if it's because they played that well or that Revolution played that badly. Without Matt Reis, the score could have been 3-0 or 4-0.
Having said that, the Crew need to play better if they're going to get a result against Chicago. The Fire are by far the hardest team to play at home. Although Ante Razov and Damani Ralph have been sub-par in their goal-scoring output this year, this is the kind of game where the Fire show their true colors in their attempt to establish themselves as the best team in the East. Henry Ring has been solid, Jim Curtin has started to show his angry side and DaMarcus Beasley seems to be finding his form. It might be a little bit too much to handle for the visiting Crew. Prediction: Fire 3-0.
Former U.S. international forward Eric
Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.