Taylor Twellman, ESPN’s match and studio analyst for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, participated in a media conference call earlier today to discuss the month-long quadrennial tournament. Full details of 2014 FIFA World Cup on ESPN networks HERE.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
Q. There has been a lot of discussion, we’re getting radio shows and phone calls about the whole notion of stoppage time, because there were five minutes added on, and the team had no idea how much time was really left in the game after Brooks scored. Can you talk about how a player deals with that uncertainty and the excitement that comes when the guy walks out and holds up the knee on board to show how much extra time is going to be added, and whether the vagueness of it is fair?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: I don’t think there’s any problem with it whatsoever. I will say this: Eight out of ten times, a player, you know, you’re involved in the game, so you don’t necessarily see when the sign is held up. You don’t see the number. You’re playing the game. I mean, the game can be going on when the fourth official lets you know on that.
So I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, and I think the players deal with it as you go … You had Jozy Altidore’s injury and Clint Dempsey’s injury, and you had Matt Besler go down, and you had a couple challenges for Ghana. So it is what it is. It’s part of the game, and I don’t think players think about it too much.
Q. I know you’ve been calling the United States games, but I wonder if you’ve been able to pay any attention, or how much attention have you been able to pay to Costa Rica and their defense, and specifically the play of a guy like Giancarlo González? Have you taken much note of what they have done as a team and what Giancarlo has been able to do?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: Yeah, I think when you look at the first round of games, Costa Rica is, if not 1A the surprise of the tournament, 1B; the way they reacted going down early.
Giancarlo is very good. I think he has been a great addition to the Columbus Crew. But I think when you talk about Costa Rica and you are guy, that opening game, you have to marvel at how they broke, and they broke in transition very well against Uruguay. They made Uruguay look extremely slow on the back.
Giancarlo González, the back four in Costa Rica did very well. But I think what was very impressive to me was how anemic in the back Costa Rica made Uruguay seem, particularly in the second half. Joel Campbell, obviously special player in the books at Arsenal, and they were very good and a surprise of this tournament, and I think they are going to have something to say about getting out of the group.
Q. Could you give us a couple of the keys to the U.S. and Portugal match? What does the United States have to do to be successful in that one?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: A couple things. One, forget about the Ghana game. You put so much into three and one-half (3½) years of preparation. You put so much into playing their nemesis in the last two World Cups, and there’s this sense of jubilation, and there’s this sense of yes, we have achieved three points.
But the real goal is to get out of the group and advance as far as you can. As quickly as you celebrate it, it has to be even quicker that you forget it. And I think that’s one … Two, the game is in Manaus. We are going to see a game in a little bit here, Cameroon‑Croatia. Manaus is very humid — very much like playing in July and August in Houston — and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of pace, what kind of tempo this game is played at.
The number one thing you cannot do against Portugal is when you lose possession is leave Cristiano Ronaldo open. We saw in the UEFA playoff qualifier against Sweden, tactically they were very naïve, almost to a point where they looked like they didn’t even prepare. The three in the middle for Portugal, Moutinho, Veloso, Carvalho, Varela, William — it depends on who it is — but particularly Moutinho, will cause problems. Because immediately when that ball turns over, almost to a fault, they are looking for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now, the question is: How fit is Ronaldo? Obviously he’s dealing with knee issues, leaving training almost consistently with an ice pack on his knee. But if you control the counterattack immediately when that ball turns over, the United States will have a very good opportunity of getting a result.
Q. Following up on Portugal on the Sunday match‑up, I’m just thinking about watching Spain go down two‑nil, because of the Champions League, a lot of pressure and a lot of intensity, and just wondering if maybe the Iberian players are a little bit worn out too much.
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: I think it’s a good observation. I think there’s no doubt that the Champions League wore out some big players, whether from Atlético Madrid or Real Madrid. Yes, it’s a good observation, and yes, I think it’s a huge part of it.
Now, in saying that, I think Spain, that is part of their equation. The other part is, they have won three major tournaments in a row. If they were going to make a run at this, you’re still in the conversation of arguably the best generation to ever have played a national team. It’s just one of those things that it’s happened too soon.
I think what’s interesting, to go on that same topic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the first round of games, this amount of cramping, this amount of injuries, this amount of fatigue. And some of the analysts here disagree with me but I think the humidity is playing a huge factor in this.
I’ve been at two of the stadiums. It’s humid. We’ve seen comebacks. We’ve already seen six comebacks in games already, where in 2010 we only saw three, and we are only through the first round of games.
So weather is playing a factor in this. So I don’t know if it’s necessarily just Iberia. I do think it’s a product of the situation. However, you can’t not say that there’s too many games being played and there wasn’t a long enough break for some of these Champions League and the high‑quality teams.
Q. Who do you think starts up front Sunday for the United States? And as you watch the hype and tension build, there’s a very real possibility that Sunday’s game might be the most‑watched soccer game in U.S. history. What do you make of the growth of attention all of a sudden the last couple days?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: I think the ascension of the sport was inevitable. Does it help that the United States won their opening game against Ghana? Of course. But is Portugal going to be the most‑watched game? Probably. But guess what, Germany is going to outdo that, and if they get out of the group, you’re looking at some huge numbers. The sport is growing no matter what. The access we have to every league in the world: It’s 2014 – ESPN is doing a wonderful job. It’s just the sport is growing. It’s factual and you see statistics that back it up.
Up front for the United States, there’s still time to figure this out. I think Jürgen Klinsmann will have to address: One, what’s the state of Clint Dempsey – will he wear a mask, won’t he? I think, what do you get from Aron Jóhannsson, what do you get from Chris Wondolowski? Do you just play one up front and allow Michael Bradley free reign, so you clog up the midfield which makes life difficult for a Ronaldo in transition.
So I’m not sure what Jürgen does, he has a couple decisions to make but I think first and foremost he has to find out what he gets from Clint Dempsey. Because, again, everyone is talking Jozy out the door, Matt Besler and those injuries. Clint Dempsey has a broken nose. I’ve played with those. It’s a difficult situation.
So Clint and Jürgen need to figure out how much he can give, and in what spot does he need help up front.
Q. I wanted to get your thoughts on what the experience has been like so far broadcasting from Brazil. We think about this as the home for soccer and soccer fans nowadays, and compared to other things you’ve broadcast and other experiences you’ve had, I’m curious what it’s like — if there’s any emotion for you in the broadcasters booth and just being around that kind of environment.
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: It’s no different than playing. I think it’s an interesting question, because it’s no different than playing. It’s a World Cup. We are all fans of it. Put it this way: I slept, I think, four-and-a-half hours over the last two to three days. My travel from Natal back to Rio with (play-by-play commentator) Ian Darke is the same distance as St. Louis to Milwaukee. It took me 15-and-a-half hours; delays, strikes … whatever is going on here in Brazil. And yet there’s partying, and it’s like, yeah, I’m tired; yes, I’m exhausted; yes, I’m starving. And oh, by the way, there’s another game on. Let’s go watch the game, let’s go analyze it and let’s put some makeup on and do television.
It’s been a great experience so far. There’s so much left, and I’m really looking ready to go be a part of the broadcast and just being a part of enhancing the experience for the fans back home.
Q. When you talk about how it’s no different from being a player, I was just curious if you could expand on that a little bit, how in particular you’re bringing your experience from recently being on the field or how you’re bringing that to people back home and how you’re trying to do that?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: I think it comes from energy, excitement. Obviously calling the U.S. World Cup games, I’m going to give my professional, unbiased opinion. However, it’s difficult to remember that I’ve got a microphone in front of me and I’m not a fan. I’ve played 30 times for my country, so it’s very exciting to call those games.
I think it’s just talking about, you know, we are sitting here with a bunch of great analysts, players from all over the world, that know the game and we all look at the game very differently. You’ve got someone in Roberto Martinez, and then you have a Michael Ballack and an Alexi Lalas. So you have so many different angles in just talking about it, and then giving my opinion.
One thing that I’ll do is I’ll do my homework, and then the other thing is, I’m not going to hold back on opinion. And I’ll give an opinion and hopefully spark debate as fans and viewers watch at home.
Q. I was just thinking about Kyle Beckerman the other night was arguably one of the best players on the field; just was wondering as a former player, how you feel about the MLS guys are doing in Brazil?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: Well, I think you look at it, obviously the U.S. win, big for the United States, and also big for your domestic league, Major League Soccer. I think it’s a huge part of it.
Tim Cahill, for me, so far, goal of the tournament. To hit a ball that’s over your shoulder that way with that technique, great finish. Obviously that’s a feather in the cap of Major League Soccer. It’s part of the sport growing.
You know, I think, at times, we want the sport to grow so quickly here in the country. Yet, what are we, 19, 20 years in Major League soccer. There has to be a little patience. There has to be some evolution. You know, 2002, we had two teams fold and now we are growing with soccer stadiums and all that. There has to be a little patience. I think you’re starting to see some of that growth in the World Cup when you have a player like Tim Cahill, who everybody thought was done when he went to the Red Bulls. What has he done? He’s come in and scored two good goals in the World Cup. It’s all part of the process.
But to go back to my earlier comments, three points against Ghana is great. Getting out of the group with a huge contingent of your roster being from Major League Soccer is more important.
Q. How important do you think it is, then, for the other side of Klinsmann’s mandate to help the technical development of the game; that there’s at least significant progress at this group stage?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: I think it’s important because I think it’s positive reinforcement. I think three points against Ghana has already signified that.
Now, I want to remind everyone, the United States beat Ghana the old‑fashioned way. There was nothing new about how they won. They scored an early goal, defended like crazy and then won the game on a set piece. So there’s nothing new about what the United States under Klinsmann did against Ghana. There’s a time and place for it. You play the games now to win. You play the games the best way possible that you can to get out of the group. Then you assess it afterwards, and then you come together, and you then work on your technical plan to develop players at a younger age, and I think that discussion will be had here.
You know, we will have that discussion at ESPN during this World Cup at some point, but it’s hard to assess that now. Now Jürgen Klinsmann is only thinking about getting a result against Portugal and then you evaluate at the right time and hopefully make adjustments.
Q. You clearly laid this out about the growth of the sport and the interest that we are seeing back home in this particular tournament. It’s leading us to write about soccer in all kind of ways, including sort of the next generation. Do you see some guys in the pipeline you want to identify?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: Can you explain to me the question?
Q. I’m just really asking about the next generation of guys coming through and just wondering if there’s some of those folks that you’re seeing that potentially could be playing in the World Cup in Qatar or Russia?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: Well, to be quite honest, Russia or Qatar, it’s so far down the road. If you would have told me four years ago in 2010 that John Brooks would score the game‑winning goal against Ghana, I would have told you you were nuts. Or DeMarcus Beasley being the starting left back in the World Cup — for the first time, an American plays in four World Cups.
It’s one of those where you never know. As much as Julian Green is on this roster, there’s no guarantee he’ll be part of the roster four years from now.
So it’s such a long, tedious process. I’d be naïve if I gave you a couple names now that are on the bubble. I will say this: that DeAndre Yedlin being on the roster has been the carrot for a lot of those homegrown players, a lot of these academy systems within Major League Soccer, and quite frankly any American club team. You look at it, you get a young kid that comes through and now makes a World Cup roster at a very young age, now there are plenty of kids where that didn’t happen in 2002 when I was growing up watching in ’94 and ’98 and all that.
So there is that carrot at the end. There is that golden ticket, so to speak, of saying, listen, that could be me in the next four, eight years. But you know, whether I single a player out here or there, who knows around a month from now, let alone four years.
Q. If you look at Portugal, what do you think their mental state is right now? Is it, they are going to come in on Sunday really fired up or do you think they are going to come in nervous and the U.S. can take advantage of that?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: They are not nervous. They are a wounded animal with arguably the greatest player in the world, 1A, 1B – however you want to look at it if you’re a Messi guy or a Ronaldo guy. Very dangerous if you’re the United States against Portugal in the first 25 to 30 minutes, because they are wounded, and they have Cristiano Ronaldo.
In saying all of that, you can get inside of a player’s head and you can make life very difficult. What I saw in World Cup qualifying from Portugal is simply this – Israel, Northern Ireland got results against them … Making life very difficult to get Ronaldo on the break. When Ronaldo gets on the break, then you have any of the players running off of him, they are dangerous and they can kill you. When they have to try to break you down, and it’s very congested in the midfield and very crowded, they struggle.
Again, Israel, Northern Ireland got results against Portugal. To say the United States can’t would be extremely stupid. They can get a result, but you have to be careful. You want to be very careful of a wounded animal with a player like Ronaldo, which is why I think 25, 30 minutes, they have to be ‑‑ the United States has to be just smart, be very smart defensively, don’t sit in deep.
When you do play in Portugal’s end, push forward, and you know, let those thoughts creep in the back of the Portuguese mind that, wow, there’s potential here. We might only have one point after two games.
Q. How will Pepe and Coentrão being out, how will that affect?
TAYLOR TWELLMAN: It’s huge. Obviously it’s a huge impact. Now in saying that, they have quality players to fill in behind. Pepe, to me, it’s so out of character for him to headbutt a player when the ball is away, right? It’s kind of comical to me. But I don’t know, I mean, I think it will be very interesting to see. Jozy Altidore being out is much bigger than Pepe or Coentrão for Portugal if you ask me.
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