Taylor Twellman was born in Minneapolis and raised on Minnesota pro soccer as the son of former Minnesota Kicks player Tim Twellman. Taylor went on to a long Major League Soccer career and is now a soccer analyst for ESPN. He will work Minnesota United's inaugural home match in MLS on Sunday against Atlanta. In advance of that, Twellman chatted with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand.
Q: What does it mean to you to see MLS come to Minnesota, and how do you think the state will respond to it?
A: I'm asked that question a lot, and I always talk about my upbringing. … I'd say 95 percent of the stories my dad told me were about Minnesota.
Q: The two expansion teams playing Sunday have taken different approaches to building their teams, with Atlanta going after more proven players more quickly. How do you compare those franchises and that interesting contrast?
A: If we're being fair and objective about it, Atlanta knew a lot sooner than Minnesota that it was going to be in Major League Soccer. So it's really an apples-to-oranges comparison. I don't think enough people are looking at it that way. … Comparing Atlanta to Minnesota, even though everyone will, will be very unfair to both because they were in very different situations. I think the stadium being built for Minnesota late will have an impact. The home run has to be hit when that stadium opens.
Q: Is that the grace period, then, for an expansion team — one or two years — until Minnesota gets its stadium?
A: I don't put any time frame on it. I look at progressions. New York City is a wonderful example of Year 1 to Year 2 and that progression. In Major League Soccer, if expansion teams come in and dominate or make the playoffs, that's not a great sign for the league. You can't teach and coach what the New York Red Bulls have with their camaraderie, their locker room and what they've built there.
Q: You watched the growth of MLS as a player in the league for nine years and then since your retirement in 2010. The league has increased its exposure and brand — but how does the league take another step?
A: I think the proof is in the pudding and for the first time in 22 years [of MLS], decisions in the offseason were made strictly about soccer on the field. The league is here to stay. The league is confident in that fact, so the marketing decisions that were made in the past don't need to happen anymore. If you look, the average age of players who came here from abroad this offseason is 26. In years past, it was 28 or 29. That is different. I just think that if you make soccer decisions, the fan is intelligent enough to understand that everything will improve.
Q: You played in New England, in a stadium built for football. How important is it for a franchise to have its own soccer-specific stadium like the one United is going to build?
A: It's important for a club's identity and for a front office's identity. You don't want to feel like you're second fiddle. The Seattle Sounders are probably the only example, and Atlanta will be another, where you can play in a football-sized stadium and succeed. Yet I think all of us would say if Seattle had their own stadium or if Atlanta was building a stadium with grass, it would be even better. For Minnesota, it changes the perception and quality.