HAMILTON, Bermuda - Having been back with his club side for a week and with his attention focused on Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal first leg against Costa Rican outfit LD Alajuelense, the recent heroics of New England Revolution forward Taylor Twellman in a national team uniform seem to be ages ago.
For Twellman himself, that's just fine, as he continues to emphasize that it is the next game and not the last one that is most important. However, he admits that the events of the last few weeks have had an effect on him physically.
"(My fitness) is good but I'm a little bit worn down," said Twellman after Monday's training session, conducted in the shadow of the Bermuda national stadium. "When you are going at it that hard and traveling you start to pick up head colds and your body wears down a little. It's just a matter of staying mentally tough. When your rest is away from home you can't do things like see the wife. It's been a new experience for me over the past eight weeks but it's not a bad situation to be in."
Since reporting for U.S. national team training camp duty on Jan. 4, Twellman has had just a handful of days to himself. Following the hat trick he scored against Norway, he hopped on a plane back to the East Coast and spent three days there before returning to California to resume proceedings with Bruce Arena's team.
Another goal followed in the win against Japan, after which the man of the moment caught the red-eye back to New England for the briefest of visits before joining the Revolution in Bermuda. Following Wednesday's game, the workload shows little sign of letting up, with upcoming national team games in Germany on March 1 and 22 bookending the second leg against Alajuelense in Costa Rica on March 8.
The "mental toughness" of which Twellman speaks is certainly not something he lacks. Despite an MLS record that has seen him score 64 goals in just four seasons in the league, the road he has followed which, presently, sees him seemingly on the verge of a trip to Germany this summer, has had its fair share of bumps along the way. After cutting short his college career at Maryland, the St. Louis native spent a year with 1860 Munich of the German Bundesliga, during which time he failed to make a single league appearance.
When Twellman returned to the United States ahead of the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, the rich promise that he had shown as a young player, during which time he won the 'Bronze Boot' as the third top scorer in the 1999 FIFA Under-20 World Championship, was in danger of being unfulfilled.
Opinions on him were mixed as he went through the MLS Player Combine. However, Fernando Clavijo, then the coach of the New England Revolution, saw something he liked and was willing to gamble on. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to the present day, therefore, and it is easy to understand why Twellman is careful to never get too high after personal success and too low following a disappointment. In his interviews, he often cites that the success of the team is more important than anything he does and that he could not do anything without his teammates' support and help.
However, to pass off the improvement as simply putting the right people around him on the field, such as his childhood friend Pat Noonan, with whom he has developed such a potent partnership at club level, is misguided.
Revolution assistant coach Paul Mariner is credited by Twellman as being one of the big reasons why his game has improved so much. For his part, Mariner, a former England international striker, cites the positive changes he has seen in the striker's game as being down to focusing on the basics.
"All we have asked him to do is be very simple in the middle third. I said to Taylor, that if he is able to hold the ball up better, then attacks will be more frequent and there will be more chances for him. If we lose the ball there, then he won't score as many goals," Mariner said.
"A player that can hold on to the ball in that central area is worth his weight in gold. It means that midfielders will trust him and make runs through. If he has 'trampoline socks' and the ball is bouncing off everywhere then midfielders are loathe to support and get in advance of him."
Mariner noted that he has always been impressed by Twellman's readiness to 'defend from the front' and track back to support his team. However, strikers are measured by the amount of goals they score, and since he has had more consistent success at international level, Mariner has noticed Twellman elevate his game to an even higher level.
"Players need confidence," said Mariner. "Playing for your country is no different from going from high school to college or from college to MLS. There are different tiers of international soccer too, from the so-called also-rans through the middle group up to the teams that can win the World Cup. It's a little quicker, players are a little faster, the passing is better and the timing of the runs is more acute."
For now, Taylor Twellman is focused on the next task in hand as he tries to help his team, in his words, "make some noise" in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. From there, his air miles are likely to continue to increase, as the busiest period of his career continues towards, he hopes, a German conclusion. With targets like that firmly in his sights, who needs rest?
Andrew Hush is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.