The Revs training sessions this past Wednesday and Thursday were marked by a special guest. New England’s all-time leading scorer, Taylor Twellman could be found chatting amongst coaches and staff, shagging balls and—most of the time—simply observing the training session from the periphery, his gaze fixed intently on the boys in blue.
For much of his eight years as a striker with the Revolution, Twellman was the boy in blue.
With his shock of blond hair, all-American looks and nose for goal, he was very much the face of the club; the Revolution’s Tom Brady for my soccer-illiterate friends out there. If a club record includes the word “goals,” there’s a good chance you’ll find Twellman’s name beside it.
As he crouched along the sidelines, we both watched as the U18s ran through some drills. Players received the ball with their backs to goal, about 20 yards away. In one quick motion, the boys would take a leading touch towards goal, turn, then crack a shot — frequently destined for the back of the net and always hit with an uncanny amount of pace and swerve for footballers their age.
On a field comprised of talented youngsters, one in particular seemed to stand out: to me, to Twellman and to the coaches too.
Dominik Machado trapped a pass, flicked the ball towards his target and slotted home into the bottom near corner. I’m convinced that if the field house had been quiet, you wouldn’t have heard much of anything besides his shoe connecting with the ball and the satisfying ripple as it zoomed into the confines of the net.
The kid seemed to be made of a lighter material; his boots sinking slightly less into the artificial turf.
Machado — a tan, athletic midfielder with a hairline so crisp, it looks as though he’s just stepped out of the barbershop and onto the practice field — is the youngest player on the Revs’ U18 roster. And in many ways it shows: fresh faced and standing 5’7”, he is one of the smaller players on the team. Yet in terms of soccer IQ, “Dom” is a bit of wunderkind.
“I think he is one of the leaders in the 18s. He’s certainly one of our best players…As a coach, he’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team. He listens, he tries to get better, he plays hard, he competes,” said U18s Head Coach John Frederick, adding, “and he’s just talented. He’s really good.”
Machado joined the academy from Explosion FC when he was just 14. Though he had less experience and doubted whether he’d make the team, Dominik found himself starting most of the 30 games that season, coming off the bench just 13 times, a number the assiduous young footballer considered to be “a lot.”
The Revs Development Academy staff has known about Machado’s talent since picking him up in 2009, but for the layperson glancing at a stat sheet, it might be hard to divine his skill. In his first two seasons, when he played for New England’s U16 team, Machado scored just six goals and 6 assists in about 60 appearances.
Watch him on the field though, and his contributions are clear.
He out-hustles just about everybody, buzzing up, down and back and forth along the spine of the field.
“I’m the center attack[ing midfielder]. So I like going into offense, getting into the attack and moving into the other team’s area,” Machado said.
As a conduit from the defense to the forwards and from one wing to the other, his link-up play and vision make those around him look even better.
Back at practice, he dished off a couple one-touch, give-and-go passes, covering about 30 yards and weaving through 3 opposing players. Getting the ball back, he found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. In this instance, most players would have fired away, but Dom — streaking towards goal at an acute angle, his window quickly closing as the ‘keeper moved forward — cut the ball back and dumped it into the middle of the penalty area where a teammate calmly passed it into goal.
“Niiiice Dominik,” said Twellman.
That was just one play, but it’s those kind of smarts that have gotten the Attleboro-native noticed, and not just by the academy coaches either.
Last spring, Machado was called up to play in a handful of the Revolution’s reserve games, making his debut against D.C. United in March. In June, he scored his first professional goal against Toronto, a moment he points to as his favorite in his promising career. A month later, he notched an assist against Philadelphia Union.
The action seen with the reserves, and training regularly with the first team between the development academy and high school seasons, has been invaluable to Dom.
“Those experiences have helped me so much in building my confidence as a player. They’ve helped me so much. Working with the first team during the summer helped me a lot as a player this season,” he said. “I love to play fast and training [on the reserve and first team] is more physical, it’s faster, it’s more of everything. It’s a transition and it’s a bit different, but in the end it’s just soccer.”
So far that time with the pros has payed off. This season, his first playing full-time with the Revolution’s U18 team, Machado has scored four goals in five matches.
“This year I really think I’ve been excelling. I’m starting and playing really good minutes,” said Machado.
Both Coach Frederick and the player himself have lofty goals for him this upcoming season and further into the future.
“I want to make it to finals week. Win it all. For me, I just want to keep playing simple, making my teammates better and getting Ws,” said Machado.
In a few years, Dominik sees himself right where he is now: playing for the Revolution, this time professionally. Frederick is optimistic about the young trainee’s prospects too.
“We really have high hopes for him in the future…The club knows about our guys in the 18s and knows about Dom and if he continues to improve, who knows? Either way, I see him playing at a high level, collegiately or otherwise,” said Frederick.
And while he plays like someone years ahead of his age, he’s still very much a kid. He shakes your hand, but maintains eye contact only fleetingly. I ask him how training with the Revolution compares to other clubs.
“The Revs is just professional. Everything we do, whether it’s practice, traveling, it’s always business,” He said. “With travel teams it’s all business at all times.”
He says the last part grinning, a laugh betraying a bit of the professionalism he has probably just started to cultivate. It’s not all business I’m sure. He’s still a kid traveling and doing what he loves with about 40 others in the same boat.
As Machado headed towards the field house exit, Twellman ran over to shake hands with the youngster. Throwing his arm around him and patting him on the chest, the two exchanged a few words before taking off.
The club’s past offering some sage words to its future?