Crew Look to Develop Consistency Following Two-Game Winning Streak

Through 21 games this season, the Columbus Crew is currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Yet, despite a strong record, the club has been inconsistent at times, and has not won more than two games in a row all season. While the team has had no trouble scoring goals (second most in the league), Columbus has often struggled defensively, conceding, on average, more than a goal a game. Nevertheless, the Crew is starting to show signs of becoming more consistent, having won its second game in a row on Sunday, beating the Chicago Fire 3-1 at home. Crew defender Tyson Wahl spoke with reporters after the game about the progress the team is making. “I think it shows a lot of great character and grittiness,” he said. “I think over the last two years we’ve shown that we can be a great team, but we haven’t always been consistent. So I think it shows, with two sound wins in a row, that maybe we’re on our way to becoming a more consistent team.” Head coach Gregg Berhalter was impressed with his team’s ability to find a way to win despite not putting forth its best performance. “In this game, I think the players did extremely well mentally to get over the hump and get a result,” he said. “It wasn’t easy. You saw today, it clearly was not our best game of soccer…I give the guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and finding a way to get it done.” Moving forward though, Wahl stressed the importance of avoiding complacency. “This isn’t good enough. We’re not going to get complacent. We know we can play better, and this is the right time to get a couple wins in a row and build momentum for the end of the season.”

When it comes down to it, any individual player or team is ultimately striving to be consistent. It’s one thing to perform at your best on any given day, and something entirely different to put together reliably good performances and be successful over time. Consistency, as a team or a player, starts with identifying your strengths. Reflect on the things that have worked for you in the past (e.g., your effort, your routine before games, your communication on the field, etc.), and view those as essential ingredients to your success. Complacency, however, is one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a consistent player or team. After experiencing success, it can seem easy to let your guard down and allow yourself to take shortcuts in the way you approach your training and your physical/mental preparation for games. It may be tempting to feel as though you’ve “found your groove” and that success will now come naturally. The only problem here is that this often means that you stop doing the things that made you successful in the first place, such as challenging yourself to try new things and improve. Instead, choose to set the bar higher for yourself. Objectively evaluate your recent performances and find new ways of lifting your game. There is also a certain level of “grittiness” that is needed to be a consistent player. As Berhalter and his players noted on Sunday, there will be days when you simply aren’t performing well. Consistency does not mean that you don’t make mistakes, or that you step onto the field and play at your absolute best every day. On the “off days”, consistent players are often able to find other ways to make a positive impact on the game by focusing on what they can control, like their effort, communication, and completing simple passes. While consistent players and teams are not flawless, they are typically good at coping with adversity and finding ways to be successful even on the days when they are not at their very best. Turning to the next game, at home against Toronto FC this Saturday, the Crew players need to reflect on what has allowed them to have success the last two games and also avoid complacency, in order to put together their longest winning streak of the season.

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Loss to AFC Bournemouth Provides Union Players With “Good Learning Experience”

Prior to Wednesday night’s international friendly against AFC Bournemouth, the Philadelphia Union had put together a string of good performances and a four-game unbeaten streak across all competitions. However, Bournemouth, a club recently promoted to its first ever season in the Premier League this fall, put a resounding end to that run with a 4-1 win. While the English side owned a majority of possession and chances throughout the game, Union head coach Jim Curtin felt that the match provided an important opportunity for his players to grow. “Tough night for our guys, definitely a good learning experience. Credit to Bournemouth, I thought they put a lot into the game. Their ability to press us all over the field, their commitment and their organization was excellent…For our guys, it’s a big lesson learned. There’s a whole other level of technique, of work. Again, they’re not just good on the ball, they also put the dirty running in.” A first career goal by defender Richie Marquez helped the Union reach halftime only trailing 2-1. However, after changing the entire lineup for the second half, Bournemouth’s reserves continued to press and scored two more goals. “For a team in preseason that is going into the Premier League, they’re hungry…they showed that,” Curtin said. “[They] pressed us and made it very uncomfortable. We didn’t have a whole lot of the ball…Again, you try to take some positives and you learn from it, you like to measure yourselves against the top teams and we came up short for sure…I think that for our young guys to play against them was a good experience.”

Despite only being a friendly, games like this can be a struggle for some players who may feel their confidence drop or even become nervous about competing against more talented teams or players in the future. However, as a player, you always have a choice in how you view these experiences beforehand and how you respond afterward. Perhaps, after being invited to a youth national team camp, you realize that you are not quite as good as the other players, or perhaps you are returning from an injury and discover that you are nowhere near the level you need to be at to compete. These experiences can certainly be humbling and even frustrating. But they also provide you with a valuable opportunity to objectively evaluate yourself as a player, by identifying your weaknesses and even reflecting on ways to lift your strengths to another level. When you’re performing well against typical opponents, it can be easy to become complacent, believing that you have achieved your goals (e.g., playing professionally with the Union), and assuming that the work is done. However, encountering a “whole other level of technique,” can put you outside your comfort zone and can give you information on specific ways to improve your game. Take time to reflect on an experience like this, and develop one or more outcome goals for yourself (e.g., being invited back to that national team camp). Break these goals down into performance goals, or parts of your game that need improvement in order to help you achieve that outcome. Finally, set regular process goals that give you specific ways to build those skills (e.g., arriving early for training three days per week, or waking up early for a morning run). It’s normal to feel a bit “shaken up” after being outplayed like this, but the individuals who grow from this experience are the ones who take valuable information from it and apply it to bettering themselves. Heading back into their MLS schedule, players on the Union have a great opportunity, midway through the season, to think about ways to lift their game to the next level.

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Aston Villa Avoid Complacency in Massive Win Over Sunderland

Saturday’s Premier League action saw Aston Villa take a huge step in its attempts to avoid relegation this season, after earning a 4-0 win against Sunderland. The victory was even more impressive, considering what was at stake: before the match, Villa was one spot above the relegation zone in 17th place, and playing an away game against a Sunderland side one point ahead, in 16th. With four goals, two apiece from strikers Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, in the first half, Villa was able to secure a valuable three points, and jump ahead of Sunderland in the table. Speaking to reporters after the match, Villa head coach Tim Sherwood was pleased with the win and the offensive output, but recognized his team’s ability to maintain the shutout after building such a large lead by halftime. “We’re delighted, obviously, to get four goals in one game,” Sherwood said. “I’m almost as pleased with the ‘zero’ on the end of it in the second half as I was with the four goals we scored in the first half. It’s not easy, you know, to play when you’re 4-0 up…it’s a lot easier when you’re 4-0 down to be honest.” Speaking to his players after the game, Sherwood re-emphasized the importance of staying grounded and avoiding complacency with 9 league matches left in the season. “I just told the guys, there’s a long way to go…there’s a lot of hard work to be done, but this is a great step.”

It can be difficult, at times, for players to maintain high levels of concentration and effort after they’ve been successful. When things are going your way on the field or in your career, and the game seems to be easy for you, it is tempting to take your foot off the gas pedal and coast to an outcome. You can become over-confident in your abilities, and assume that the game has been won, or your goals have been reached, before the “final whistle”. As a result, you may stop working hard, and your focus can drop, as you lose sight of your role and responsibilities in the moment. The same can hold true for your team, moving forward after a big win. As a player, complacency can be one of the biggest hindrances to consistency on the field, because success can cause you to lose sight of the hard work and discipline it took to get to where you are. Avoiding complacency has everything to do with being aware of your mind’s tendency to stray from the present moment. As a player, it’s normal to imagine yourself winning or to spend time thinking about your outcome goals, because either one can motivate you. However, there is a time and a place for both, and when you find that you are thinking so much about an outcome that it is taking your mind away from the present moment, try to shift your focus back to doing what it takes to be successful. During halftime of a game like Aston Villa’s over the weekend, reflect on what allowed you to have success in the first half. Remind yourself, in times like this, to stay in the present moment with a refocusing cue (e.g., “Here and now” or “Don’t let up”). It can also help to set small goals or objectives for yourself, during a game for instance, by challenging yourself to maintain possession, or win your 1v1 defensive battles. Communicate effectively with players around you, reminding them to stay organized, disciplined, and focused on the present. With two and a half months left this season, Villa does indeed have “a long way to go” to ensure that it can compete in the Premier League next season. The ability of the players and coach to stay disciplined and focused on what they need to do throughout each game will go a long way in helping them achieve just that.

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Complacency Postpones Arsenal’s Round of 16 Berth

After only 60 minutes in Tuesday’s Champions League match against RSC Anderlecht, Arsenal seemed well on its way to securing a place in the Round of 16. The London club had scored twice before halftime and added a third early in the second half. The Gunners held more possession and offensive chances in the first half, and it seemed all-but-certain that the club would win and advance out of a difficult group into the Champions League knockout round. Unfortunately for Arsenal, a lot can happen in 30 minutes, and Anderlecht scored twice quickly, and found the equalizer in the game’s 90th minute to steal a point. Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain summed up the team’s regret from the match: “…Obviously a little bit of complacency crept in because we didn’t finish the game strong at all. At 3-0 a team of our quality should be able to see that out and dominate the remaining 20–30 minutes. We failed to do that and we were punished.” Head coach Arsene Wenger echoed the sentiment and noted several reasons why his players fell short. “At 3-0 there was a combination of switching off and thinking the job was done and also fatigue, you could see we were not competing for the challenges,” Wenger said following the match. “Maybe we underestimated Anderlecht subconsciously. That’s Champions League – you need to be at that mental level and we were not.”

Complacency can be a difficult challenge for players or teams that have enjoyed success – either early in a game, or across several weeks of a season. Complacency can cause players to fall short of putting forth the same level of effort and focus that has earned them success in the past. It can lead individuals to believe that they have worked hard enough, done enough, and achieved enough, to allow a performance to take care of itself. Resisting complacency as a player means that you are committed to maintaining a consistently high level of focus throughout an entire game, and each time you step onto the field. It means that you stick to your roles and responsibilities in the game, regardless of the scoreboard or your performance. As a player, avoid complacency by recognizing what habits have brought you success in the past, and committing to those habits to see a performance all the way through to the end. It also means that you are able to make small improvements or adjustments to your play to ensure that you are continuing to challenge yourself to raise your level of play and become better. Above all, avoid complacency by staying in the present moment and focusing on what you can control. Players who begin to think about the outcome of the game long before the game has ended have removed themselves from the present moment and, therefore, are often putting forth less than their highest level of effort and focus into the task at hand. When your team is leading late in a game, clear and effective communication can also help you stay organized and committed as a group, help players work through fatigue, and ensure that everyone is performing their role to the best of their abilities. With two Champions League group games remaining to earn a place in the next round, Arsenal will need to make adjustments in their mentality late in a match in order to avoid “switching off.”

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Dwyer Brushes Off Mistakes, But Still Wants More

In only his third season in the MLS, Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer has already broken several records, but remains unsatisfied. The English striker has 21 goals in 31 MLS games this season, which set a new club record and is currently the second most in the league. However, after the most recent goal against the Chicago Fire, Dwyer noted that he still wants more, and even half-jokingly told reporters that he was aiming to add another 10 goals to his club record, with only two regular season games remaining. In fact, his goal total would have been higher had he not missed his first penalty of the year in the 13th minute of the game against the Fire. “I know, throughout my career, I’m going to miss,” Dwyer said. “I’m going to miss another PK. There’s going to be a time I miss an open goal. It’s going to happen to everyone. You see Messi. You see Ronaldo. You see the best players in the world missing. That’s something you have to deal with in the game, and I’ve matured and learned to deal with it…you brush it off and move on and make sure you put away the next one…I’m still out to prove I’m getting better each game,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I’m not satisfied. I want more.

As a player, it can be very difficult to strike a balance between holding yourself to high standards (always wanting more out of your performance), and also recognizing that mistakes will happen and accepting them. Dwyer provides an example of a player who has demonstrated a remarkable ability to strike this balance. In each game, he acknowledges that he will not be perfect, but he also continues to raise the bar for himself each time he steps onto the field. For players who want to continue developing and moving up to higher levels of the game, Dwyer’s mentality provides an excellent example of what is often needed for that continued growth: a refusal to be satisfied with achievement, along with an acceptance of imperfection. Goal setting can be an important element to this process, because goals provide milestones to help you maintain your focus and motivation over time. However, they also allow you to continue lifting the bar for yourself. Thus, if you achieve an objective you previously set, pick a new one. Along with goal setting however, on a day-to-day basis, it is important to allow yourself to make mistakes on the field. Goals should help guide your motivation and your focus, but they should also be realistic and allow for mistakes and growth. As a player, coping with mistakes during a training session or game involves your ability to stay in the present moment or the “here and now”. Consider using a refocusing cue (i.e., “Flush it” or “Let it go”) to maintain your composure and regain your focus after a mistake has happened. Dwyer’s professional career is still young, but the striker will likely continue to improve and will be around for some time, based on his ability to let go of mistakes in the moment, while challenging himself to prove that he is “getting better each game.”

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The Whitecaps Look to Strike Balance Complacency and Recklessness

The Vancouver Whitecaps, who have only lost twice in their last 17 games, currently occupy fifth place in the Western Conference table – good enough for an MLS playoff spot if they can hold onto it until the end of October. Despite only four losses this season, Vancouver have largely struggled to collect points, as they are tied with two other clubs for the second most draws in the league thus far. With only a third of the season remaining to solidify a postseason spot, the coaches’ and players’ focus is largely on finding a way to get three points, instead of one, out of each of the remaining games. As a result of the late-season push, players are bringing a noticeably higher level of effort and intensity to training, and the shift in focus was not lost on midfielder Russell Teibert. “I think if you’re content, you’re not pushing for the top,” Teibert noted on Wednesday. “Today was an intense training session. It’s competitive but once we leave the field, everyone forgets about it and we go back to being a family in the locker room… We haven’t plateaued and we’re going to keep going forward and we’re going to keep pushing.” In fact, this ‘pushing’ has, at times, gone overboard. The intensity of recent training sessions has been so high that head coach Carl Robinson had to speak with the players after training one day about the difference between training hard or pushing each other, and being reckless and overly-aggressive in their approach. “We’ve got to stick together as a team and sticking together means getting the best out of each other but in a respectable way,” Robinson said to the media.

These statements shed light on two important mental topics for younger players. First, complacency and contentment are often significant obstacles to continued growth and development as a player. In other words, becoming too satisfied in your achievement and failing to set new goals and new challenges for yourself will often eventually result in a drop in form, if effective habits and preparation are not maintained. This is not to say that you should not take time to value your triumphs. A goal should be celebrated. A win should be enjoyed. A long run of success should make you feel proud. However, the best competitors in the world know that resting on these achievements and failing to continue to exercise good habits will often result in a lack of further progress. As a player, continue to raise the bar higher for yourself. Continue to set new standards so that your improvement and growth do not plateau or become stagnant. Ask yourself on a regular basis if you are engaging in the effective habits that have earned you success in the past. Are you bringing a high level of effort and focus to each training session? Are you taking care of your body through proper stretching, sleep, and nutrition?

Second, while it is important to push yourself and set new challenges for yourself on a daily basis, it is equally important to avoid letting this intensity boil over and result in an injury – to yourself or a teammate. Cohesion can play a significant role in a team’s success, and this chemistry can occasionally be fragile; however, it can be maintained while you are simultaneously pushing players around you to perform to the best of their abilities. There is often a fine line between pushing yourself and your teammates to constantly get better on the field, and letting your effort and intensity get out of control. On the other side of this, if you feel that a teammate was reckless with a challenge during training (on you or another player), it is okay to address it with him or her. However, have the composure and awareness to recognize the appropriate timing in doing so, and the tone you take in communicating. Immediately yelling at another player after he or she goes in late on a tackle will likely not help the situation, as adrenaline levels and intensity are exceptionally high in the moment. Instead, allow for some time to pass, or even wait until after training to address the incident and acknowledge your appreciation for your teammate’s hard work, while also noting the importance of keeping players safe. As Vancouver goes into its final 11 games, a roster full of players eager to prove themselves must continue to avoid complacency through their intensity and effort, while also maintaining a respectful training environment and sticking together.

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