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Hidden Caps: Defender Tim Twellman Becomes First Half of Father-Son U.S. MNT Duo

On March 21, 1982, Tim Twellman was named in the U.S. Men’s National Team starting lineup for the first time in an international friendly with Trinidad & Tobago.

“I was exhausted from excitement,” said Twellman. And that was before kickoff.

The St. Louis native would pull himself together and go 90 minutes in the 2-1 win, with Rick Davis and Juli Vee getting the goals. It turned out to be out to be his first and last game for the USA.

But it was far from the final Men’s National Team appearance for a Twellman.

His son, Taylor, went on to earn 30 caps for the U.S. between 2002 and 2008, and this year was nominated for the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The Twellmans are one of three father/son duos to play for the U.S. MNT, and the most recent. James (4 caps, 1 goal in 1930) and George Brown (1 cap in 1957) were the first to do it. Harry Keough (19 caps 1 goal from 1949-57) and his son Ty (8 caps from 1979-80) were the second duo.

According to Tim Twellman, none of that would have happened if he hadn’t grown up in St Louis, the original Soccer City USA. When asked if he thought he would have become a soccer player had he grown up anywhere else in the country during the 1960s and 70s, and Tim’s answer was emphatic.

“No, not during my era,” Twellman responded. “There were not too many areas of the country that offered the level of soccer that I was exposed to and I was surrounded by great players in high school and college.”

Twellman came from a family of athletic prowess, and his elder brother, Steve, excelled at soccer growing up, captaining Michigan State University and going on to play in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the Atlanta Chiefs and Boston Minutemen.

In college at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Tim made his name as a standout on the soccer team, and signed with the Minnesota Kicks of the NASL in 1977 after graduation, staying there until 1981. As one of the few Americans on the roster in an era of the NASL dominated by stars from overseas, Twellman made a career out of his versatility.

“I played every position outdoors, and even goalkeeper indoors,” Twellman recalls. “I would adapt to what they needed from the American player. I just wanted to play.”

That desire gave him opportunities he still savors, including the chance to play against Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in front of 70,000 at Giants Stadium in New York against the Cosmos. “It was a dream come true,” said Twellman.

Twellman’s regular play in the NASL would eventually lead to his chance with the National Team. U.S. Head Coach Bob Gansler called Twellman in for a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain. At that time, it was a very different era for the Federation, and the match was the country’s only competition of 1982. The National Team had not been able to qualify for the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, and didn’t even play a single game in 1981.

“I was so excited to be called in for the game,” remembered Twellman. He was so ramped up with emotion, he said, “I almost couldn’t get through the first training.”

The U.S. won 2-1 with Twellman on the backline, going the full 90 minutes.

Twellman’s career then took several twists and turns, as the NASL imploded. He was traded to the Tulsa Roughnecks in 1982, and then moved on to the Chicago Sting for two seasons.

The NASL folded in 1984, and Twellman had little choice but to continue his career in indoor soccer, briefly a big-time sport in the 1980s.

It was not a situation Twellman enjoyed. “Did I like indoors?” said Twellman. “No. We played on the old turf on top of ice.”

That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy indoor soccer at times. “We did draw huge crowds when I played indoors in Chicago and that was fun.”

Twellman retired from playing in 1986, and has remained active in the game since then as a youth coach. He believes the coming generation of players need to be encouraged to simply play and develop their skills in informal games with friends.

“Let the kids play,” said Twellman, recalling that he played in his own backyard with friends until the sun went down. “Give them the tools (a ball), and let them have a few friends over and just wait and see what happens. There’s plenty of time for coaching.”

Twellman is also active with his family’s campaign on health awareness surrounding concussion issues in sport, sparked by the serious head injuries his son Taylor sustained during his career.

Tim credits his son for his decision to retire from the sport at the age of 30 “to protect his long-term health and now to be a role model for youth and on concussion issues.”

He could hardly be prouder of his son’s achievements on the field. The Twellman family “lived and breathed every game Taylor played and cheered every goal.”

Twellman doesn’t regret that his career, coming at a time when pro soccer in the United States bounced around between indoors and outdoors, didn’t offer him the same opportunities it did his son.

After all, he says, “it worked out very well for myself and my family.”

- Tom Dunmore