Union Overcome Adversity Again to Beat Red Bulls in Open Cup

For the second consecutive U.S. Open Cup game, the Philadelphia Union overcame enormous adversity to advance to the next round. Traveling to the New York Red Bulls for the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Philadelphia won 4-3 on penalties after regulation ended with the score tied at one. A red card issued to striker Conor Casey just before halftime left the Union a man down for nearly 80 minutes including extra time. For head coach Jim Curtin, overcoming this challenge showed the character of his players. “I thought that our players showed a ton of heart, the heart of a lion. I couldn’t be more proud. They represented the badge very well…they left everything on the field.” Union goalkeeper John McCarthy also recognized the importance of having faced similar adversity three weeks ago. “We’ve been there before, a man down. We had the same exact experience against D.C. United. So we just [knew] that it was mental…we had to stay mentally focused the whole game.” After taking the lead early in the second half despite playing with only 10 men, the Union almost won the game in regulation, until New York equalized in the 90th minute. “Most teams [at that point] would quit and collapse but our guys kept fighting,” Curtin said. “…Something inside of us kept going.” After neither team scored in extra time, the Union prevailed in a shootout, with Fernando Aristeguieta converting the winning penalty after playing all 30 minutes of extra time, despite having been out for the last month and a half with an ankle injury. “He was gassed and exhausted,” Curtin said. “But he had enough legs to step up… and take the fifth spot. That’s not an easy one. It comes from within you, the guys who step up in those big moments and come through.”

Despite your best preparation and all the time and energy you’ve put into developing technically and tactically as a player, there will be games in which you need to rely on sheer effort and determination to get a result. When adversity (e.g., a red card) is working against you, and you are exhausted, it can certainly be difficult to meet the game’s demands and perform your role effectively on the field. As a player, your inner voice may even be giving you permission to give up under the circumstances. However, in these moments, it’s important to recognize that your effort is one of the few things under your control. Players, like Aristeguieta, who do rise to the occasion in these situations, are often the ones who are able to dig a little deeper and find something within themselves to overcome the physical and mental fatigue. Managing your self-talk during these moments is essential, and it needs to start long before the moment itself. For example, when you are tired during training, try to build an inner dialogue that motivates you to dig a little deeper. Identify one or more refocusing cues (e.g., “Keep pushing” or “I’ve got this”) that will help you overcome the challenge in front of you. You may not control the outcome, but you do control whether or not you choose to leave everything on the field in an effort to be successful. In these moments, it’s also important to communicate effectively with the players around you to make their job (and yours) easier, and to also focus on playing smart rather than playing hard. In other words, there may be times when it is wiser and more efficient for you to conserve energy and get yourself into good positions, rather than chasing down a ball in the corner that you may not reach. Finally, as McCarthy pointed out, it can help to rely on past experiences in these moments, recognizing that you have overcome adversity of many shapes and sizes before and know how to do so again – an effective source of confidence. Heading back into league play, and eventually the Open Cup semifinals, the Union players certainly have enough evidence thus far this season to show that they are more than capable of finding a result even when their backs are against the wall.



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Seattle Responds to Adversity and Grinds Out “Workmanlike” Win

The Seattle Sounders know how to win, even when it’s not pretty. Consistently known as one of the more entertaining attacking teams in the MLS, the Sounders had to make some tactical adjustments against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. After Seattle scored just before halftime, midfielder Gonzalo Pineda received a red card 11 minutes into the second half, and the Sounders were forced to play a man down for the game’s final half hour, before pulling out a 1-0 win. After the red card, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid switched things up to play with five in the back and was pleased with his team’s response in the face of a challenge. “I thought the first half was pretty even. I liked our energy, I liked that we were aggressive…In the second half, obviously the game changes with the red card…It was a workmanlike effort,” he said. Veteran center back Chad Marshall agreed with his coach’s assessment. “It wasn’t the prettiest of games. But we grinded and got three points at home,” Marshall said. Another defender, 23-year-old Dylan Remick, was one of the players who performed well in his first start of the season, despite the adversity. “It’s one of those things where you just take it as it comes,” Remick said. “Everyone’s played five at the back, three in the back, so it’s not that big of a deal…We’re just trying to keep the ball out of our net, especially with 10 men.”

Despite your best efforts to physically and mentally prepare to perform consistently at a high level, there will be times during competition when you will need to change parts of your game or take a different approach. These are times when you have to adapt as a player. Adaptability refers to your ability, when facing adversity, to adjust your mentality or role on the field in response to the conditions you may face. When called upon to respond to a challenge during a game, it’s important to recognize that you have faced different kinds of adversity in the past and to know that you are prepared to adjust your game to meet the demands of the situation.

During times like this, it can be especially difficult to motivate yourself to meet the obstacle in front of you. Especially late in the game when you’re exhausted, yet playing a man down, the voice inside your head may try to tell you that it’s okay to slow down a bit when you’re tracking your man back to your own penalty box, or that you can lose focus for a second when defending a corner kick. Players who maintain their effort and focus in these moments often use a refocusing cue (e.g., “Here and now”; “I’ve got this”; or “Dig deep”) that helps them find that extra boost whenever they feel their effort dropping. Sometimes adapting to a situation means that you must rely on sheer effort and hard work to be successful. There will be times to catch your breath, so it is important to also “work smart,” but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Working “smart” can have a lot to do with communicating effectively in these moments. Effective communication can help your team stay organized and disciplined, and it can make the individual workload more manageable when you are coordinating with the players around you. With its latest win, Seattle moved up to 5th in the Western Conference standings, and the gutsy, “grind-it-out” performance, so early in the season, showed players, coaches, and fans that the team can adapt when its back is against the wall.



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McIlroy Prepares for Upcoming Masters, Knowing That “Better Never Stops”

Currently ranked number one in the world, Rory McIlroy has accomplished more by his mid-twenties than most golfers will in their entire careers. He is one of only three players to win three different major championships by the age of 25. He won the U.S. Open in 2011, the Open Championship in 2014, and the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014. However, despite all of his success at a young age, there is still one major tournament McIlroy has not won: the Masters. He came close in 2011, going into the final day with a 4-shot lead, before shooting one of the worst rounds by a leader in tournament history and falling to 15th. Next month in Augusta, he will get another chance to complete a “career grand slam” with a win at the 2015 Masters. In the meantime, McIlroy’s commitment to becoming a stronger golfer has not slowed down. In November, McIlroy posted an Instagram picture of one of his weightlifting sessions, with the caption “Better never stops.” In a recent interview with Golf Digest, McIlroy commented on this dedication to improving his game. “I’ve come across enough successful people now to know that the best in whatever walk of life, they’re the ones who just work the hardest,” he said. “I realized that if I want to be the best and fulfill my potential, I’m going to have to do the same thing. And for those who are lucky enough to be born with a gift and then choose to work the hardest—I mean, that’s the combination.”

Plenty of athletes are, to some extent, naturally gifted in their sport. Even more of them are talented because they have worked hard to get there. However, when all else is equal, and two athletes are similarly capable, the one who is never truly satisfied with success and constantly looking for ways to improve his or her game will often go further. As soon as you become satisfied with your ability as a competitor, you stop pushing yourself to improve. After an accomplishment, there is no fault in enjoying your success and the rewards for your effort. However, you are only selling yourself short if you think that your efforts up to this point will continue carrying you forward and bringing future achievement. Regardless of how successful you become, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your prior level of commitment is enough, or that you don’t have to continue working hard. There is always another competitor out there, waking up early to run or staying late to get extra repetitions. After reaching a goal, take time to identify things that have worked for you in the past, and commit yourself to those effective habits moving forward. However, also take time to reflect on ways that you can lift your performance even further, whether through specialized training (i.e., weightlifting or fitness), better nutrition, or injury-prevention practices such as yoga. Set new outcome, performance, and process goals to lift your bar even higher. Coming up with a mantra like “Better Never Stops” can help fuel your daily motivation to do what it takes to constantly improve. McIlroy’s undying commitment to making himself a better golfer shows that even the best athletes in the world do not rest on their talent. And with less than a month to go before the first major of the 2015 golf season, this dedication will go a long way in helping him to reach the next milestone and push his potential even further.


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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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In Union’s Final Home Game, Curtin Impressed With Players Who “Stuck With It”

For the players, coaches, and fans of the Philadelphia Union, the 2014 season will unfortunately be coming to a premature end in the club’s final regular season game at Columbus this weekend. However, despite missing out on the playoffs for the third consecutive year, the Union earned a 2-1 victory in its final home game on Saturday against Sporting KC, the defending MLS champion. While it wasn’t a perfect performance, interim head coach Jim Curtin expressed pride in his players’ ability to get the job done, singling out the role of Brian Brown, one of the club’s newer players, on loan from Jamaican club Harbour View. “[He] is a kid now who, 21 years old, doesn’t have a great first half, but at least sticks with it and gets the goal in the 44th minute. So, again, those are the messages where when things get hard, who are the guys who roll their sleeves up, and who are the guys that bail out? I thought tonight we had a lot of guys that stuck with it. Was it perfect? No. We didn’t play a perfect game…But from the young players to the old players the mentality [was] to stick to the task and get a result…

Players who “roll their sleeves up” are those who maintain their effort and commitment to a task, even when their backs are against the wall. These are the individuals who choose to demonstrate leadership when their team faces adversity. At times, this can be difficult to do. When a team is playing poorly or even losing, many players often shy away from the spotlight, and fade to the background. Their confidence wavers, their communication can become less effective, and their performance can become hesitant. In many cases, this mentality and body language can become contagious and spread throughout the team. Instead, as a player, “rolling your sleeves up” when your team is facing adversity is a sign of leadership. It means that you choose to rise to a challenge, commit to your role, and do the work necessary to help your team find a result. When faced with adversity, focus on the details of your game – the things you control as an individual. Increase your communication on the field, offering encouragement when teammates do something well, and clear, specific feedback when they can adjust or improve. Take ownership and help the players around you stay organized and disciplined in their collective efforts. Effective communication during these times in a game can also often help you stay engaged in the play and focused on your own role. As a player “sticking to the task” means knowing your role on the field and maintaining your focus on filling that role. It can help to use self-talk in these moments (e.g., “I can do this” or “I’ve trained and worked hard for this moment”) to maintain your own motivation and your concentration level. When the game becomes difficult, don’t be the type of player who “bails out.” Instead, choose to be the type of player who digs deep, commits to your role and responsibilities on the field, and takes a leadership role through your verbal communication and body language. Jim Curtin embodied this mentality as a player and now as a coach, and as Philadelphia turns its attention to its final game and the 2015 season, he and his staff will continue looking for more players who lead by rising to a challenge when their backs are against the wall.



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Gaddis Earns a Boost Through Hard Work and Professionalism

As the Philadelphia Union prepares for the US Open Cup Final tonight against the Seattle Sounders, one of their players is especially confident, knowing that his work, thus far, has paid off. Third-year defender Ray Gaddis was recently signed to a new contract through 2016. Prior to the start of the season, with an impressive array of talented defenders on Philadelphia’s roster, some felt that Gaddis would not be a consistent first-choice for one of the outside back positions. Instead, Gaddis has started all 28 of the Union’s MLS matches this season, and played for all but nine of those minutes. His versatility in playing on either the right or left and his ability as a 1-v-1 defender have allowed him to fill a vital role for the Union in 2014. According to Union technical director Chris Albright, one of the most impressive aspects of Gaddis’s third year in the MLS concerns the fact that he has improved on many of the weaknesses that were evident earlier in his career, through his hard work. Interim head coach Jim Curtin also recognized the defender’s talent and commitment to improving: “One-on-one with the ball, Ray Gaddis is the best defender in our league right now…But he’ll be the first to tell you he still has room to grow and work on things…he’s the same guy that is the first to ask after practice to work on that stuff. In terms of accepting challenges and taking on new roles – playing left back without complaining, working after practice every day on his weak foot and finding ways to get better – he does everything you ask and more.”

Professionalism is a word often used in high-level sports, at both young and older ages, as a sign of a player’s commitment to training, accountability, and respect for other competitors and coaches. Being a “professional” involves holding yourself to high standards as a player, both on and off the field. It involves making a commitment to prepare for training and games (physically and mentally), taking care of the details, and exercising good habits (i.e., proper nutrition, stretching, and recovery) before and after your performance. Professionalism also means that you bring a high level of effort and focus to the field whenever you play, and that you are committed to improving in all aspects of the game. Of course, as a player, it is important to recognize your strengths, as these will help you focus on what you can control during games and play to the best of your ability. However, do not be afraid of your weaknesses. Weaknesses provide opportunities for improvement, and becoming a more all-around player. They allow you to approach each training session or game with a focus on what needs work, and short-term process goals for how to go about accomplishing that work. Finally, reframe each weakness as a challenge: turn it into one of your strengths. This attitude and approach takes a high level of effort during training, and on your own time, and Ray Gaddis provides an example of how hard work can pay off. When it comes to his contributions for the Union this season, and his professionalism as a model for younger players, perhaps Curtin said it best: “He should be the guy a lot of young kids look up to because he treats the game with respect. He brings it every day in training.”


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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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