By Josh Staph
Only 700 miles separate the home towns of Taylor Twellman [St. Louis, Mo.] and Clint Dempsey [Nacogdoches, Texas], but the two MLS stars grew up worlds apart. If it weren't for the game of soccer and their extraordinary drive and determination, these two exciting young players would never have crossed paths. Former teammates for the New England Revolution, Taylor and Clint prove that it's not wher you've been, but where you're going that matters.
The Born Professional
Taylor Twellman's innate soccer ability comes as no surprise, considering his family's deep athletic roots. His dad Tim played for various teams in the North American Soccer League. His grandfather, Major Leaguer Jim Delsing, found fame with the White Sox and Yankees, among others. His younger brother James had a short stint with the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes.
His family's strong athletic leanings, combined with the soccer breeding ground he calls home, defined Taylor's career path early on. "I really didn't have a choice," he recalls. "It was pretty clear. Everyone in my family was playing sports at the highest levels, so it just seemed natural for me to do it too."
Taylor lived up to his legacy by excelling in football, baseball, soccer and basketball at St. Louis High Schoola regular athletic powerhouse. From 1998 to 1999, he polished his soccer skills at the University of Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he decided to go pro, taking his game overseas to play for 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga.
But Taylor's first taste of professional soccer was bittersweet, as he spent two years on the reserve squad. Although slightly discouraged, he returned home with a new sense of drive. "As athletes, we all have setbacks," he says. "That obstacle helped me form the work ethic I have now. It was difficult to deal with at the time, but I'm very grateful for my experience in Germany."
In the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, Taylor was picked second overall by New England. He's since established himself as a high-scoring forward and one of the most dangerous players in the league. With 17 goals in the 2005 regular season, Taylor received the MLS' Golden Boot award and was named league MVP.
"My goal has always been the same: to be the best teammate possible at my position," he says. "That means creating scoring opportunities for my teammates and helping them when we're under pressure. My name might be on those trophies, but they're really team awards. We had the best season in club history last year, and that's what matters."
Inspired by his father's motto, You're only as good as your last game, Taylor refuses to rest on past successes. Off to a blazing start, the forward is ready to take the Revs back to MLS finals. "But this time," he says, "We want to take the Cup home."
On the Road
Although he could juggle a ball up and down the hard dirt lots of his trailer park in Nacogdoches, Clint Dempsey had to travel three hours for his only chance to play organized youth soccerwith the Dallas Texans.
The long trips to tournaments and practices required money and timetwo things that were hardly abundant in Clint's early life. These constraints, combined with the sudden death of his older sister, temporarily halted his career with the Texans. But once his family regained their bearings, Clint returned to Dallas. With a new source of inspiration his sister's lifehe quickly earned the title of team captain and became the team's high scorer.
After enough time with Dallas, Clint headed to Alabama for a regional team tryout. There he hit another obstacle: "I didn't make that regional team," he says. "As a kid, it took a lot of wind out of my sails, because it hurt to know I wasn't good enough. But I knew I had to pick myself up, keep going and use that experience to make me better. So, that's what I did."
Clint's resolve and ever-improving play earned him a spot on the squad of Furman University [Greenville, S.C]. During his three-year college career, the attacking midfielder started 61 of 62 games, scored 17 goals and had an epiphany about his talent. "It wasn't until college that I saw the possibility of being a pro athlete," he says. "The only thing I knew was that if I could make the national team, I could get a Project 40. That meant I could leave school early to play professionally, but if I came back, school would be paid for."
Clint's hunch was right. The Revs took him as the eighth overall pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. After netting seven goals in his first season, he was named MLS Rookie of the Year. One of the most electrifying players in Americadue in large part to his diving headers, aggressive play and post-goal dance movesClint was selected to compete for the U.S. National Team in the 2006 World Cup. He made the best of the opportunity in Germany by scoring an equalizing goal against Ghana.
Three-hour drives to Dallas pale in comparison against the trip this kid might soon be taking. Clint's skills have sparked large contract offers from various foreign soccer clubs. "It's a goal of mine to get overseas soon," he says. "I will have achieved another lifetime goal when I get that done."
Keeping it Fresh
With its long sprints and few opportunities for rest, the game of soccer puts a massive running demand on its players. Accordingly, the New England Revolution places a huge emphasis on fitness training in the preseason. Once the season arrives, however, the Revs do less fitness work, using their frequent games to maintain conditioning levels.
"Besides the fact that preseason was in some serious heat, we've already played 23 games, so we don't have to worry about fitness that much right now," Taylor says. "The cooler weather will also help us run longer."
The issues that remain for Clint and Taylor are maintaining high energy levels, fresh bodies and sharp skills every time they take the pitch. "Playing a bunch of games in a row really takes a toll on your legs," Taylor says. "You see guys hit a wall in the second half of games this late in the season. So our main goal now is just to keep ourselves going and feeling good for the rest of the year."
Since Clint made his National Team debut early this summer, his season has been extraordinarily long. "Man, I've been going at this since December," he says. "But I have to stay strong throughout the whole thing and finish up well. I know that this training is important, and without devoting myself to it, I wouldn't be where I am. If you don't grind, you don't shine. That's why I do this day in and day out."
Clint and Taylor grind through a warm-up routine that eliminates soreness, stimulates muscles, maintains flexibility and hones their skills during multi-game weeks. "The routine has a few different elements, all which help us get our legs back between games," Taylor says. "It's a great way to refresh your legs when you still feel the previous game in them."
The revitalizing benefits of the routine helped Clint, Taylor and the rest of the Revs battle all the way to the 2005 MLS Cup Final. Now on track for the 2006 championship, Clint and Taylor work these exercises into their daily practices at Payson Park Field.
Games Played: 26
Games Played: 15
Perform the following movements over a 20-yard distance; turn around and perform the same movement back.
In a jogging motion, rapidly kick your heels to your butt.
Targeted Muscles: Quads and hamstrings
45-Degree Walking Lunge
Same as Walking Lunge, but take each step diagonally.
Targeted Muscles: Hip flexors, groin
Perform buttkick motion, but rotate your leg outward so you can reach straight down and touch your heel as it approaches your butt.
Targeted Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, groin and hips
Perform one shuffle diagonally right, then one shuffle diagonally left. Continue pattern in rhythmic fashion.
Targeted Muscles: Groin and hips
Step forward with your right leg and lower into lunge position until your back knee is just above ground. Step forward into an even stance and lunge forward with your left leg. Repeat pattern over distance.
Targeted Muscles: Hip flexors
Begin running; gradually accelerate until you are close to top speed.
Targeted Muscles: Entire body
Hold the following stretches for 15-20 seconds.
Repeat on the opposite side of your body when appropriate.
Assume a lunge position, allowing back knee to rest on ground. Push your hips forward to intensify the stretch.
Sit on ground with one leg extended in front and other folded so that your foot is pulled into your groin. Gently reach toward the extended foot.
Stand on one leg; pull the foot opposite your standing leg toward your butt.
Plow with Scissors
Lie on back on ground; slowly bring legs overhead until only your upper back touches ground. Gently scissor legs.
Lie on back on ground; cross left leg over right so that left foot is flat on ground outside of right thigh. Rotate to the right to intensify the stretch.
The Revolution's success does not result from going straight at their opponents. Instead, the Revs beat their foes with precise, technically sound passes. To keep this skill fresh throughout the season, the team performs a continuous session of passing work within a 15x15-yard area.
Perform the following five-pass sequence with three of your teammates for 5-10 minutes.
1) Player A passes ball to player B and then loops to right side of square
2) Player B passes ball to player C and then loops to left side of square
3) Player C passes ball to player D
4) Player D passes ball to looping Player A
5) Player A passes ball to looping Player B
With a firm grip on the soccer world, Clint has launched his conquest of hip-hop under the stage name, "Deuce." His love of rap started in eighth grade with heavy doses of Tupac, and has continued under the influence of the budding Texas rap scene. Check Deuce's freestyle flow and videos at www.clintdempsey.com.
The 3 CDs that keep Clint's head bobbin'
Restless Trae // The Life of Joseph McVeigh Z-Ro // Sound of Revenge Chamillionaire
The 4 songs that get Taylor ready for action
Sing for the Moment Eminem // Hands Up Lloyd Banks and 50 Cent //
Remember the Name Fort Minor // Don't Tread Clint Dempsey feat. Big Hawk & XO
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock