SAN FRANCISCO -- Scoring goals always came easy for Taylor Twellman -- until he started suiting up with the U.S. national team.
The deft touch around the net that made him one of the top scorers in MLS with the New England Revolution deserted him in international matches. The player Eric Wynalda once predicted would break the U.S. scoring record didn't score in his first 12 international appearances.
Then came a goal last October against Panama and a breakthrough game last month against Norway, when Twellman recorded the ninth three-goal game in U.S. history.
"It's a matter of being more comfortable here with these guys," Twellman said. "I'm just not putting as much pressure on myself as I did earlier in my career. A major part of my success is being surrounded by a lot of good players."
That scoring burst came just in time for Twellman, who is trying to prove to coach Bruce Arena that he deserves a spot on the roster for the World Cup in Germany.
Twellman, who struggled at times in the U.S. team's first game of the year against Canada, will try to follow it up Friday night against Japan.
"I think you can't overreact from one game, the Norway game, and ignore the Canada game," Arena said. "You judge players over time, not over a game. As he continues to move forward we'll have a better feel for the direction he's headed. Obviously, he's getting better. From my perspective, I need to see if he's developing into a guy who should be a player on the World Cup roster and can help us win a game."
Twellman is competing with Josh Wolff, Brian Ching and Steve Ralston for a spot as the fourth forward on the U.S. team and is using these games when many top players are still in Europe to state his case.
"Obviously these games are important. Every game is important every time you put on the U.S. jersey," Twellman said. "I'm a day by day kind of guy. It's always the way I looked at things. Germany is down the road right now."
Twellman's improvement with the national team can be tied to his improved health. Slowed by injuries in 2003 and 2004, Twellman is finally getting a chance at some consistent playing time.
Against Norway, he scored on a left-footed shot in the penalty box off a cross from New England teammate Clint Dempsey in the fifth minute. He added a powerful header 12 minutes later and scored on another header in the second half to cap the performance.
"The more games you get, obviously the more comfortable you get," said Dempsey, who has 15 international appearances. "When he's scoring goals like he did, that lets you know he is comfortable."
The 25-year-old Twellman even drew praise from Arena for his work defensively as he came back to support his midfielders.
"From an outsiders point of view, you're graded on whether you score or not," Twellman said. "But that's not true with coaches and teammates. It's also a matter of what I do away from the goal to help the team. I've never focused on just scoring goals. My goal has been to be a good teammate and help out defensively whenever I can."
Showing the ability to finish around the net is key for any forward. But doing it against a Norway team that used only two players who played in its final two World Cup qualifiers last year is much easier than it will be in Germany against the likes of Italy and the Czech Republic.
Getting to go to Germany would be especially sweet for Twellman, who began his professional career there. He played in more than 40 games for TSV 1860 Munich's reserve side in 2000 and 2001, including qualifying games for the German Cup.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Twellman decided to return home.
"My two-year option came up right around Sept. 11 or a little after that. Part of me said I want to go home for a while," he said. "I was still very young when I went over there at 19, 20 years old. I wanted to start playing first-team soccer. I was just happy New England gave me a chance to play."
Twellman has made the most of it, scoring 64 goals in four seasons with the Revolution, including 17 last year when he won the league's MVP award.
Even though the U.S. has played many games in the Bay Area, including at Stanford in the 1994 World Cup, this will be the first ever in San Francisco. It also will be the first soccer game at SBC Park, where one goal will be in front of the first-base dugout and the other in left field near where Barry Bonds usually plays outfield for the San Francisco Giants.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press