Taylor Twellman plans to return to playing for the Revolution. He just doesn't know when. But Twellman is being extra cautious -- he returned too soon last season, then was hit in the head by D.C. United goalkeeper Josh Wicks, the blow aggravating the concussion and whiplash injuries he had sustained in August, 2008.
"No doctor has told me I'm not going to play again," Twellman said in an interview before the Revolution traveled to Los Angeles for Saturday's season-opener against the Galaxy. "So, I'm playing. It's just a matter of me having some patience, which I've never had."
Twellman, who recently turned 30 (his birthday is Feb. 29), has been a goal-scoring phenomenon, the team's all-time leading scorer with 111 goals in 195 playoff and regular-season matches. Illness and injuries have slowed him in the past, but he has converted while playing with a broken foot (2003) and performed for the US national team in the Confederations Cup while suffering from undiagnosed walking pneumonia and sinusitis (2004). After Twellman took a fist to the face from Los Angeles goalkeeper Steve Cronin in a 2-2 tie Aug. 30, 2008, he should have taken a break to recover. But Twellman continued to perform, scoring thrice in eight games, before the extent of his injury was determined on the eve of the playoffs. Twellman did not perform in another game until going in as a substitute for Jeff Larentowicz in the first half of a 2-1 win over D.C. United May 31. The following week, despite the clash with Wicks, Twellman performed in the second half of a 4-0 victory over New York, this time converting his 100th and 101st regular-season MLS goals. Then, Twellman completely shut down his training -- he has not played in a game since -- and he has come under the care of Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and concussion and spinal injury specialist.
Though Twellman would not make the trip to Los Angeles, he trained with the team while the Revolution were preparing for the Galaxy game. After completing a 45-minute workout, Twellman addressed the Revolution players regarding the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Twellman, the team's player representative, had participated in four days of negotiations in Washington, D.C. Twellman said his role with the Revolution has changed with the loss of Jay Heaps (retired), Larentowicz (Colorado), and Steve Ralston (AC St. Louis); he is the only player on the current roster who performed in the 2002 MLS Cup at Gillette Stadium. This is what Twellman had to say about his injury, the changes in Revolution personnel, and his changing responsibilities:
"One thing -- I had a date set last year and I was going to play, no matter what, and I shouldn't have. There is a load of stimulation you've got to take into account, and I've learned a lot about the brain, about the neck. I've only got one brain, and I've got to do this the right way before I start throwing my head in places I shouldn't. Today, I trained for 45 minutes and it was pretty intense. Still a long road there. I need to calm down a little bit -- nine months doing nothing, fitness has to come. Mentally, I'm in the right place. I'm not woried about my contract, I just want to play.
"I practice very hard and if I can get through a week or two of training, games will be no problem. You can't simulate a goalie punching you in the face. This is an injury I don't wish on anyone. It's something you can't fix -- it's just time. Ankle, knee, hammie -- you can heal it. In this situation, the brain will heal itself.
"The hardest part for me is I missed two years of playing, and that's what I love -- playing with friends and teammates. Missing the playoffs, that was hard. I looked at (Jay) Heaps and (Steve) Ralston, how disappointed they were not to have me on the field."
"(This year) it's a whole different ballgame. Sometimes change is good. I'm anxious -- this team is young and they are keeping me younger, but I just need to get on the field. You just don't know -- you can play as many preseason games as you want, but our first game in LA, they were in the final last year, guys are going to be tested and the only way you can be tested is big games. I'm not going to say we're not going to miss those guys (Heaps, Larentowicz, Ralston) -- we're going to miss those guys.
"(His role as a veteran) is fun, it's a new challenge. I never thought it would happen so early. It's driving me insane -- I'm not old. The first time I met Rallie (Ralston, he was 30. In 2002, he was 28-29. What you don't realize is the leadership qualities we had in the lockerroom and it was quiet leadership. You looked around, you knew Jeff was a leader, Jay Heaps, Rallie was our captain. That's the pressure that's on me, it's new for me. I used to go out there and take care of myself and play, those guys took care of the leadership. It was my responsibility to relay that message (the CBA settlement) in the lockerroom, and I'm not used to it. I've always been looked at to get in front of goal and score goals. Being injured taught me how you can contribute and still be a part of this team in different ways. I remember Jay Heaps telling me my presence in the lockerroom had changed, he said you're not only a goal-scorer you're helping the young guys and you've got to keep doing that. I guess he was telling me he was retiring, but I wasn't listening.
"I've had enough time to look at, you could say, life, and stuff like that. No doctor has told me I'm not going to play again. So, I'm playing. It's just a matter of me having some patience, which I've never had. To be honest, that's what this whole process has taught me, is patience. And doing something else other than just being on the field yelling and screaming and scoring goals. I've got to do something else, and be more of a complete, not only athlete, but person. In that sense, I'm very grateful for it, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's been easy. Coming into the stadium and knowing you're not going to play for that year is very difficult.
"They realize what they did last year was wrong, telling me the middle of May, end of May, because I had a little bit of a setback that I should have taken a week or two and just settled down. Instead, I said, 'No, I'm fine, I'm fine.' And then Wicks caught me in the back of the head and that was it. So, no timetable but everything is progressing the right way, so I feel good about that. But if the doctor says I'm not playing this month that's fine."
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