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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