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‘It has shown everyone that this league and sport, if treated the right way, will resonate’

Before #MLSIsBackFinal Tuesday, Banter with Taylor Twellman host talks about the "privilege" of telecasting matches this unprecedented season

The past month has been hectic for ESPN’s lead soccer analyst Taylor Twellman.

In-between his daily co-commentator role, alongside play-by-play voice Jon Champion on ESPN’s unprecedented coverage of the MLS is Back Tournament, Twellman has appeared numerous times on SportsCenter, Get Up and ESPN FC to offer analysis of the 51-match tournament.

Additionally, his weekly Banter with Taylor Twellman digital show, available on ESPN App, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, is enjoying its best month during the pandemic with in-depth analysis and interviews – headlined by a recent conversation with former FIFA Player of the Year Kaka.

Ahead of Tuesday’s #MIBTournament Final – Portland Timbers versus Orlando City SC (ESPN, ESPN Deportes at 8:30 p.m. ET) – Twellman discussed his busy month with Front Row.

What has your experience been like working the MLS is Back Tournament?
Twellman
: I approached the MLS is Back Tournament as a privilege, much like I do with everything I do for ESPN – especially during this pandemic. I can’t thank the league [MLS], the commissioner [Don Garber], the crews at Disney and ESPN, and everyone in-between enough for doing their best to provide live sports for the fans, and allowing me to work these games.

You and Jon Champion have called 18 matches together since July 8. How has your partnership evolved?
Twellman
: It has been a real pleasure to work with Jon over the years. But for our partnership to be more consistent has been better than I thought. His knowledge of the league, the sport, the ability, and skillset to not take away from the game is a real joy to watch first-hand and up-close.

How does hosting your weekly Banter digital series complement your role as a match analyst and ESPN’s coverage of MLS?
Twellman
: Just before the pandemic, we [Banter executive producer] Mike Foss and [producer] Matt Ufford came up with the idea that if we treat the league and the American soccer the way we do all other things at the company, there would be an appetite for the content. Obviously, we did not expect that shows would consistently deliver more than one million views. It has shown everyone that this league [Major League Soccer] and sport if treated the right way, will resonate with the fans. Players, coaches, front office staff have all been on the show, and now are asking to be on because they see Banter as a medium to talk in-depth about the sport.

The show’s producers – Adam Pedersen, Chris Wondoloski and Tim Fontenault – have done a great job putting together the show every week with limited or resources, and few could tell from watching the shows. Hat tip to those three for working diligently through the shutdown.

What are you looking forward to most the rest of the MLS season?
Twellman
: I am looking forward to matches happening. I am interested in which teams take their form off of the tournament into the season – with limited travel. Will Orlando City or Philadelphia continue to play at a high level, and what will Atlanta United look like after firing its manager?

Jon Champion (L) and Taylor Twellman call an MLS is Back game from ESPN’s Studio F in Bristol, Conn. (Kelly Backus/ESPN Images)
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