Monday, January 14, 2008

Taylor-Made Disaster?

According to ESPNsoccernet’s Frank Dell’Apa, New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman may soon join former compatriot Clint Dempsey abroad by plying his trade across the Atlantic. Preston North End of the Coca-Cola Championship has reportedly offered a $1.7 million transfer bid for the Revolution’s all-time leading goalscorer.

The 27-year-old striker, undeniably the face of the New England franchise, has been strongly courted by the English club, who are currently fighting off relegation as they dwell in the Coca-Cola Championship cellar. Although initial reports have MLS scoffing at the club’s bid, it is expected that the English club are prepared to up the ante to an even $2 million.

Whether MLS accepts nothing less than a substantially higher bid (think somewhere in the neighborhood of Dempsey’s MLS-record $4 million figure) for one of its biggest stars remains to be seen, but the prospect of Twellman departing New England for old England will undoubtedly rattle the relatively-quiet offseason ambiance of a club that fell two goals shy of an MLS Cup victory less than two months ago. Should the league ultimately decide to take the money and run, it would undoubtedly leave a crater-sized hole for a club that has already lost two primary goalscorers (Dempsey to Fulham and Andy Dorman to St. Mirren) in the last year alone.

If Preston North End gets its multi-million dollar wish, the Revolution would realistically be stricken from any real chance at a return engagement to the postseason this year, nevermind a fourth consecutive trip to the MLS Cup. During Twellman’s time in New England, the Revolution never failed to reach the postseason, thanks in large part to Twellman’s remarkable performance on the pitch. In fact, it was Twellman himself who single-handedly starred as the Revolution’s driving force throughout last year’s playoffs when he scored all three of the club’s post-season goals.

Moreover, the possibility of Twellman playing abroad would greatly alter the organization's immediate plans toward potential player acquisitions, not to mention long-term plans as well. It would also force the organization to create a contingency plan to cope with the tremendous loss of one of the league’s best players. Whereas the club would have entered next week’s MLS SuperDraft primarily hunting for an attacking midfielder and, perhaps, some taller defenders, they now have the monumental task of trying to locate a franchise forward to replicate Twellman's Best XI production should he jump ship. That said, the time may have come for the organization to start dusting off that unused designated player allocation in search of an international high-caliber striker.

Twellman's importance to the club, both on and off the pitch, cannot be overstated. During his six-year tenure, the former 1860 Munich (Germany) castaway not only became the club's all-time leading scorer, but the universal face of the franchise as well. His likeness has graced countless pocket schedules, advertisements, and promotional materials, thus becoming the most visible footballer in New England. Nowhere in the region, save for Tom Brady, has a single player risen to become the avatar for an entire franchise. It’s fair to say that should the club lose Twellman, it would also have lost a better part of its own identity in the process.

And like Brady, Twellman is more than just a pretty face plastered on the walls of children’s rooms across New England. After arriving in 2002, he led the Revs in scoring every season, save for the 2004 campaign when he finished second (9 goals) to Pat Noonan (11 goals). At 26, he became the youngest player in MLS history to reach the 75-goal plateau, besting the previous mark set by Jason Kreis, who was 29-years-old when he notched that magical mark. Since his rookie season, no player has scored more goals (91) in MLS; should he stay the course in the States, he would likely break the league’s all-time goalscoring mark (112) before the age of 30. With a resume such as his, it’s no wonder a struggling club like PNE is willing to upfront millions for the talents of an extremely potent striker such as Twellman.

Simply put: without Twellman, the Revolution, a perennial playoff team since his arrival, could very well fall to the bottom of the MLS table faster than you can say future hall of famer. Without the player it has so heavily relied for the past six seasons, the club would likely struggle to create the offensive spark it already lacked down the stretch last season. The current need for a complimentary player or two to take the weight off the striker’s shoulders becomes immediately moot, as the club would instead have to switch gears completely and begin the tedious search for an MVP-caliber striker should Twellman wave Foxboro goodbye.

In short, any move for Twellman outside of New England would spell disaster for a team that has been on the cusp of a championship multiple times since the his arrival in 2002.

Can Preston North End afford MLS' asking price for Twellman when it’s all said and done? Perhaps. Can the Revolution afford to press on without its best player? Not a chance.

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