Some days, the odds may just seem to be stacked against you. For the Philadelphia Union, Tuesday looked like it would be one of those days, as the team squared off against D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup Round-of-16. Fourteen minutes into the game, lightning forced both teams back into the locker room for nearly an hour. Then, ten minutes after play resumed, C.J. Sapong was shown a controversial red card after going up for a header and colliding with a D.C. defender. United then took the lead three minutes later when Jairo Arrieta scored on a low cross. However, despite being a man and a goal down, Philadelphia was arguably the better team for the remainder of the first half. “We just fought through it,” defender Sheanon Williams told reporters after the game. “I thought for being a man down, we had a lot of possession and when we didn’t have the ball, we really did a good job of helping each other out and limiting their chances.” The Union’s momentum continued into the second half, and goals by Erik Ayuk in the 55th minute and Fabinho in the 79th minute ultimately earned Philadelphia a spot in the Open Cup quarterfinals. “It’s a huge win,” said veteran midfielder Brian Carroll. “First of all it’s hard to get a comeback victory in this league, and to do it in a tournament like this in conditions like this, already being low on numbers, it was huge… it prepares us going in to the next one.” Head coach Jim Curtin also felt that the win would pay off going forward. “…Games like this bring groups together,” he said after the game.
While these games can certainly bring teams together, they can also be very difficult to overcome. When so many uncontrollable factors seem to be working against a team, players can often become increasingly frustrated, communication between teammates can break down, and effort and concentration can drop. It’s important to recognize, however, that these are the things you do control in these moments, unlike the circumstances that seem to be working against you. In response to adversity like weather conditions, red cards, a poor playing surface, or the other team’s performance, it can be tempting to dwell on those uncontrollables and blame them for any outcome. However, managing your emotions in these moments is a big part of focusing on what you do control. Rather than allowing frustration or panic to take over, find a moment to take a deep centering breath and reset yourself. Individually, recommit to the effort and concentration needed to perform your role and responsibilities to the best of your ability in the present moment. It may be difficult at times, especially if you are a man down, but these moments often bring out the best in players, because you can focus on simply working hard and playing without hesitation or fear. Finally, when it comes to staying organized and working together under these circumstances, effective communication between teammates is key. When a teammate needs to do something differently, deliver that information as feedback (i.e., “I like what you’re doing, try forcing him to his left foot”), rather than criticism. It’s also important to recognize that communication (both verbal and non-verbal body language) can be contagious during pivotal moments in the game. In other words, if you fail to manage your emotions and start yelling at a teammate or you allow your head to drop, it will often influence other players to do the same. Having success in moments like this should fuel your confidence and belief for future situations in which you face adversity. As Carroll pointed out, these experiences serve to prepare you physically and mentally for the days when factors outside your control seem to be working against you. Having overcome so many obstacles to advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals, the Union players and coaches can move on, knowing that the team is capable of – to use Williams’ words – “just [fighting] through it.”
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