ST. PAUL - Before the field is covered in a luscious bed of Kentucky bluegrass next spring, Taylor Twellman stood on a stage above the gravel base of Allianz Field on Tuesday, May 15. While ESPN's top soccer commentator was in St. Paul to announce the under-construction venue would host CONCACAF Gold Cup matches in June 2019, he dovetailed his opening comments to include his view on Minnesota United a year-plus into their MLS existence.
"Dr. Bill McGuire, Ben Grossman and the Minnesota United brass, well done on doing this the right way and the right way very quickly," Twellman said.
In an follow-up interview, Twellman, who blasted the U.S. men's national team for failing to qualify for the World Cup last fall, elaborated on his views of the Loons:
What makes you say they are doing this "the right way"?
"I don't think the ownership group is getting enough credit on laying the foundation while having some bumps in the road. Everyone will critique the play (a 4-7 record this season) and the roster and the buying of players, but how many owners have to come in with the expansion fee ($100 million), privately funded ($250 million) stadium and training facility that is going to be (an estimated) $30 million. When I assess Minnesota, that will always be a caveat. If I'm having that discussion three or four years down the road - quite honestly - if I'm having that discussion by next year, then they have to get their ducks in a row.
What I do like is (coach) Adrian Heath has done a very good job of maximizing everything. Now, I think (captain and center back Francisco) Calvo has had a difficult year, to say the least, but he's not the first player going to a World Cup to have a difficult year. Remember before 2014, Americans in Major League Soccer going into the World Cup weren't playing their best. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Calvo comes back from the World Cup and is a stud. And he is up to the challenge.
... But they still have something. They play. They get after it. They have a lot of silly, stupid defensive mistakes that I'm sure are driving Adrian Heath nuts. Until they bite that in the rear end, they are going to have an up-and-down year.
Calvo has been saying he doesn't think Minnesota gets enough respect in the league when compared to expansion cousin Atlanta as well as LAFC, and after making individual mistakes, he called on the media to look at the entire team instead of just him. How do you view him saying these things?
I think he has real pride for Minnesota. Real pride for this club, which I respect. I'm a firm believer, though, in let the actions speak a little louder. I think those words from Francisco would be stronger if he was playing at his best.
The comparison to Atlanta, it's a black-and-white comparison ... (when it really) is apples to oranges, and it's stupid to even talk about because they didn't have to do what Dr. Bill McGuire and the ownership group have had to do. It's two completely different situations.
I think Calvo is a very good player, and I think he's going to open some eyes at the World Cup, and you don't know what that's going to turn into. Maybe that turns into a transfer fee that Minnesota United can't turn down. I think it says a lot that Minnesota United's captain is going to be at the World Cup, even though they have had their ups and downs in their first two years. It says a lot that they are picking some good players.
With Darwin Quintero as their first Designated Player, we've seen a change in their attack. How can signing one DP be a springboard into more by showing what a difference-maker can do?
You're not winning MLS Cup if you are not hitting home runs with your (three) DPs. ... But with the new Target Allocation Money (TAM) that went onto the league, now it means that not only do you have to hit on your DPs, but four through nine, 10 on your salary (budget) have to be strong. ... Toronto (the defending MLS champion) is the perfect example. All three have been home runs on designated players, but then their TAM players have been good.
Quintero is going to jump start them because players around him, as we've seen on the few glimpses, he can get forward. He can create stuff. But there also has to be the support. I think that is what Minnesota United is waiting for. I would be shocked if they (sign more high-level players) this summer. I could be wrong. But I would be shocked also if by the beginning of next year, you are not looking at a very different roster.