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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