The path for young American soccer players to make an impact on the world stage continues its evolution in 2019. The women’s national team recently won its fourth World Cup title. And 20-year-old American Christian Pulisic is scoring goals for English powerhouse Chelsea after completing a transfer worth $73 million.
Yet the issue of being seen at the right time by the right coach or scout remains a constant challenge for many US youth players. With such a vast pool of talent, it can be difficult to get the right exposure.
Recently, Major League Soccer partnered with Allstate to coordinate an All-America Cup during the league’s All-Star festivities in Orlando. Games for both boys and girls were organized and given television coverage, showcasing 80 of the top young players in the country.
Former Revolution forward and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman was one of four former US players to serve as coaches for the teams, along with Brian McBride, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain.
Twellman recently spoke with Boston.com about the project, as well as the other pressing subject for New England soccer fans: the resurgent Revolution.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
You’re involved with the first-ever Allstate All-America Cup. What are your thoughts on the project as a new opportunity for young players?
Taylor Twellman: It’s interesting when you think about soccer in our country, there are just so many ways as a younger player — and there’s no clear-cut path — and high school soccer has always been a part of that, and still remains that way even though we have these high-level discussions about academies and whatnot, high school soccer is still a huge part of the landscape in our country. So when Allstate got involved with it and still wanted to recognize those high school players, naturally I was inclined to be a part of it. It feels like a natural fit for me.
Do you think this adds another avenue for younger players to get noticed by national or international scouts?
TT: Well, my theory is that you never know who’s watching, right? So if you’re playing in a high school all-star game at MLS’s All-Star festivities, who’s to say there isn’t going to be a scout there? You never know who’s watching. And I find the most successful scouts, general managers, front office personnel, the successful ones are those who don’t have blinders on.
Just because a player in 2019 isn’t playing with the academy doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have any quality. And that’s just because of the way our country is setup. Maybe they aren’t playing in an area where an academy is a viable solution. I grew up a majority of my life in St. Louis. High school soccer was legit, so it wasn’t as if we were playing bad competition, that was actually real soccer.
So who knows who’s watching? I think it’s more about celebrating these juniors in high school that are taking the next steps. But I think someone’s always watching things like this.
How would you compare your experience in an earlier time to what high school kids have now in terms of opportunities in soccer?
TT: The exposure to the sport that I got at age 22, 23, 24, or going to Europe at age 19, these kids are getting at 12, 13, 14. So the exposure has grown exponentially to a point that it’s kind of hard to quantify. Whether it’s games on TV, since you can watch any game in the world now on TV. That wasn’t the case. All we knew was Manchester United. You didn’t know Bayern Munich. You didn’t know Inter Milan, unless you really got deep into it. So first, the exposure is completely different.
Second, I just think like anything, as time evolves, so does education. I think some of the coaching is much better than when I was playing. I think some kids are being forced to make some harder decisions a little sooner in their lives. On the other hand, you’ve got Americans being sold to European clubs for $70 million. Right? So it’s very difficult to compare it, just because I think everything’s grown at a much faster clip than when I was playing.
I think a big part of that is now you’ve got some of these high school kids really having high aspirations. When I think if you asked Brian McBride and I what our aspirations were, we were just thinking we just wanted to make the all-star game senior year of high school. It changed.
The local story around here has been the Revolution’s unbeaten run. Has it shocked or surprised you that Bruce Arena has already had such a positive effect?
TT: Am I shocked or surprised that Bruce Arena has turned the corner for a team that was struggling? No, I’m not. At the level that he has done, yeah absolutely. I mean when you see the way this season started for the Revs, and now the same group of players are on an unbeaten run of 11 games.
Now granted, Gustavo Bou gives them a completely different complexion of a team going forward, so am I surprised at the 11-game unbeaten run? Yes. But am I surprised at the manner of how Bruce Arena and his staff have done it? No. That is why he’s the most successful coach in MLS history. There’s a reason why. It’s not a fluke. I do think there’s some underlying stats, and you need to look at the numbers. They’re scoring goals.
The other thing is they won against Orlando City, 4-1, and the group was not completely happy with that, so I think there’s a real change of mentality that’s been good for the group. Every club around the world, when you make a midseason or early-season [coaching] switch, you hope that it rectifies the situation immediately, but also has some longevity to it.
I think that’s where a lot of people have been like, “Whoa.” Not only was it immediate, but now they’re unbeaten in 11. That’s where I think people are surprised.
If people are surprised, they haven’t really paid attention to anything Bruce Arena has done in his career.
On the flip side, this change came about after Brad Friedel and Mike Burns were let go by the club. What did you make of the problems that were there earlier this season, and do you think Friedel was slightly unfairly made into a scapegoat?
TT: I think conversations are always going to be had. When Brad Friedel was hired, I said it, and I’ll still say it: It was his first job, so anyone trying to judge Brad Friedel as a coach right now, well that’s a little unfair because it was his first job.
But that’s how Mike Burns went about things. That’s how he handled his interviews, that’s how he went after things, so the change from top to bottom was needed, was necessary.
We can all have that argument over whether it should’ve happened earlier; it doesn’t really matter. The fact is we’re in the present, they made the move, and are unbeaten in 11.
Looking at Arena’s performance so far not just as coach but as sporting director, he’s already brought in Gustavo Bou. How much of an impact do you think he can have in making New England a relevant MLS franchise again?
TT: Winning helps. You’ve got to win not just to be relevant in Major League Soccer, you’ve got to win to be relevant in Boston. The way the last 18 years have gone, it’s remarkable to see what this city has done. So first and foremost, you’ve got to win just to be relevant here.
Gustavo Bou, that wasn’t a revelation overnight. Curt Onalfo, who’s been brought in, he’s got a great scouting network. Bruce Arena’s obviously watched him. Bou played for Tijuana on turf; that was a player profile that’s already been there. So it wasn’t as if they signed with the Revolution and then they said, “Oh hey, we found this guy.” They already had their eyes set on Gustavo Bou.
It’s a difficult spot, and Bruce Arena knows the work that needs to be done. When you’re playing at Gillette Stadium, compared with the rest of the league, this is a full job. I think part of the intrigue for Bruce Arena is he knows that. But the only thing he can control with his staff is winning games first and foremost, and then that other stuff can ultimately take care of itself.
But there are still some big question marks as far as the franchise resonating in the city of Boston and I think those are all fair questions because of the way the league is growing in 2019, it’s the way the league is now.
Now looking at the schedule, suddenly the game against LAFC this Saturday has a whole new level of excitement. What do you think about that game this weekend?
TT: I think there’s a real excitement level for the Revs, because you get to test yourself against the best in the league right now. Now, the “home-field advantage” works for Bruce Arena and this group, because the last thing LAFC want to do is come play on this turf in that stadium.
You can use that to your advantage, and it can be a real advantage that I think we saw during times when Jay Heaps was manager, he made that a huge part of it. So I’m intrigued by it.
I’ll be watching this one closely to see where the Revs set up in this kind of environment, dealing with a team like LAFC. But a neutral fact to that though is that if you realize the game is on turf, and the game is in a stadium where it’s not going to be as intimidating as Bank of California Stadium in LA, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Revs use that to their advantage.