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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Despite Frustration With Referee, Dynamo Could Have Done More

Players and coaches on the Houston Dynamo were quick to express their frustration after Saturday night’s 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. In the game’s 15th minute, the Dynamo appeared to take the lead when Raúl Rodríguez struck off a corner kick. However, Rodríguez’s goal was called back after the referee whistled another Houston player for obstruction. After the Timbers went up 1-0 just before halftime, Houston center back David Horst was called for a foul in the 59th minute for pulling down a Portland player in the box while defending a corner. Gastón Fernández stepped up and converted the subsequent penalty to give the Timbers a 2-0 lead and ultimately all three points. After the match, several members of the Dynamo, including head coach Owen Coyle and captain DaMarcus Beasley voiced displeasure at the two decisions that influenced the outcome of the game. “The referee was very inconsistent…” Beasley said. “…But we can’t rely on the referee to bail us out.” After what he described as a “very disappointing” performance by his team, Beasley pointed out the things he and other players could have done to prevent the result. “I felt that we didn’t play well the whole game, not just the two mistakes we made. From back to front we were soft. We gave the ball away in bad areas. Just all-in-all a bad game. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. Collectively, as a whole team, we weren’t good enough tonight. They punished us and they got the win.

In situations like this, it’s often easy and even understandable for players and coaches to be frustrated or angry with the referee. It may even be tempting to blame a loss entirely on a referee’s decision. However, before doing so, reflect back on your performance as a team and as an individual. Were there things you could have done differently (or better) at any point during the game that would have influenced the outcome? Were there areas of your performance that were not as strong as they could have been? If mistakes had not been made earlier in the game, could this have swung the result the other way? It’s very easy to blame a loss or tie on a referee’s decisions, a poor playing surface, or the weather conditions because it means that, as a player, you are letting go of accountability, and choosing to blame the result on something outside your control. And while it may have been the case that one or more of these factors (i.e., referee, field, weather, etc.) influenced a game, it is never the case that they were the only reason your team did not win. Part of what it means to “objectively evaluate” a game involves identifying things you can improve on that are under your control – specific things that you can work on in training the following week so that you can improve your performance and increase your chances of success in the next game. Having accountability as a player means finding a way to take responsibility for results, good or bad, regardless of how tempting it might be to blame anyone but yourself.

As Houston’s captain, Beasley’s leadership is also important to note here. As a veteran, he sets a strong example for other players by acknowledging the Dynamo’s collective accountability in the loss. He doesn’t cast blame on any one player or single out a teammate for a crucial mistake. Instead, he identifies several specific ways in which the team’s performance simply wasn’t “good enough” on the day. With a match scheduled this Friday against in-state rival FC Dallas, all Dynamo players will need to focus on what they can control so that they don’t risk leaving future results in the hands of anyone but themselves.


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USWNT World Cup: Objectively Evaluating Performance

On Monday, The United States Women’s National Team competed in its first game of the 2015 World Cup. Sharing a group with Sweden, Nigeria, and Australia, the USWNT matched up against Australia for it’s first game. Entering half-time with a score of 1-1, the USWNT has not played a very strong first half. They managed to pick up the intensity in the second half and started playing more cohesively. Megan Rapinoe succeeded in scoring two goals, leading the team to a 3-1 victory. Despite the victory, the team arguably did not play to its potential. Some post-game reviews claimed that the team did not play it’s best, saying, “For most of the first 60 minutes, Australia was the better team,” and that, “The United States weren’t great as a whole.” Coach Jill Ellis said of the first half: “I didn’t think we really played with a rhythm and a sense of calmness about us.” She said, “The important thing is we grow. The second half is something we can grow upon.”

The USWNT’s first game demonstrates that outcomes do no always reflect the process of performing; the U.S. beat Australia by two goals, but that does not mean they played the best they could. Objective evaluations can be very effective in these instances. After winning a game, it may feel easy to be happy about the outcome, and forget about the game, missing your opportunity to learn from what you did well and what you need to work on. However, after losing, you might find yourself replaying some of your mistakes over and over, and neglecting to think about what you did well. Being objective and evaluating both the good and the bad in the process of your performance – independent of the outcome – can help you recognize what you did well and identify areas for improvement, no matter what the score of the game is. Objectively evaluating your performance requires you to take some time to reflect, and to follow through. After you play, either in a training session or a game, think about what you did well, what you want to improve, and how you want to improve it. Deciding how you want to improve gives you goals to work on in upcoming sessions. If you want to really commit to this, then keep a journal or training log and write down your evaluations. This will help you see what you want to work on in upcoming sessions or games, and track your progress over time. Keep in mind that after games, you are likely to feel emotional, whether you’re feeling happy or excited about a win or good performance, or frustrated about a loss or a poor performance. When you reflect on your play, try to let go of some of those emotions so that you can think objectively. Objectively evaluating their first 2015 World Cup performance and identifying what the team did well and what they need to improve can help the USWNT go into their game tomorrow against Sweden with specific goals and strategies to help them improve their performance.




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Johnson Brings Humility, Coachability and Team-First Approach to Chicago

Entering second-half stoppage time down 2-1 against the Columbus Crew over the weekend, players on the Chicago Fire were desperately searching for an equalizer. When late substitute Jason Johnson’s header found the net in the 94th minute, it secured a priceless point for Chicago before the final whistle blew 30 seconds later. Johnson was drafted by the Houston Dynamo in 2013, but didn’t see much playing time in his first two seasons in MLS, before he was traded to the Fire this season. Despite a massive first goal in only his third appearance with his new club, Johnson was quick to turn his attention to the next game. “It’s a goal, but I’ve put it behind right now,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m focused on Saturday’s game, so that’s the main thing for me: Try to get a victory at home Saturday.” Johnson also noted how much he is learning from Chicago’s veteran players on a daily basis. “I’ve been watching Mike Magee over the years in the league, and he’s a fantastic goal-scorer. Shaun Maloney…he’s a really good player. It’s an honor to be playing with these guys and to learn each day in training.” According to head coach Frank Yallop, this mentality has allowed the 24-year-old striker’s transition to Chicago to go smoothly. “He’s a great kid; he just wants to come in and do his part for the team,” Yallop said. “Any time we’ve put him on, or talked to him in training, he’s very coachable, he’s got a great demeanor with the group, and it showed on the weekend. Everyone was very happy when he scored, and he was very pleased and, like you say, he was humbled that he got a goal for the team … which is very refreshing.”

Johnson’s mentality in his third MLS season with his second club shows the importance of remaining humble and coachable even as a 24-year-old professional. By getting caught up in personal success and focusing solely on achieving individual outcome goals, many players lose sight of this mentality, and as a result, they stop working hard on a daily basis to get better. Being a coachable player means that you are committed to learn each time you step onto the field. It means that you are focused and attentive during training sessions, and that you listen closely to your coaches when they provide feedback. It also means that you are receptive to this feedback, knowing that it will make a better player, rather than taking it personally. Coachability also involves prioritizing your team’s goals and the team’s performance above your own individual success. Whether you’ve scored a goal, or you’ve been playing really well for several games, it can be tempting to get caught up in the confidence and pride you may feel for your individual accomplishments. However, while enjoying your success, it’s also important to keep a level head in these moments, and to avoid using it as an excuse to become complacent in any way. One way to do this is to objectively evaluate your performance (i.e., identifying strengths and areas for improvement) on a regular basis. Continue to set process goals for yourself that will allow you to build on each training session or game and continue to improve as a player. On the other side of things, it can be equally tempting to wallow in the frustration or bitterness you may feel if you are playing a position you don’t like, or you’re spending time on the bench. However, having a team-first mentality in these situations means accepting your role on the team no matter what it looks like, and committing yourself to fulfilling that role to the best of your abilities. Having already contributed in a big way to Chicago’s season, Johnson’s time with his new club is off to a great start. His commitment to staying humble, coachable, and putting the team first will help to ensure that things stay that way.


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NYRB Remain Objective: Need Better “Mentality From the Kickoff”

With a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night, the New York Red Bulls maintained an undefeated start to the 2015 MLS season. Despite the strong start, however, many of the players are not satisfied with the team’s performance at times over the past few weeks. For the fourth time this season, New York conceded the game’s first goal, after Colorado forward Gabriel Torres scored in the 25th minute. While the Red Bulls were able to salvage a point with a penalty kick before halftime, the early deficit forced the team to change its tactics and dig itself out of a hole. Midfielder Lloyd Sam acknowledged that this has been an issue for the team in recent years. “I remember we’ve had this problem in the past at this club…we’re giving ourselves a mini mountain to climb. We normally get a goal back but it’s too much to get another goal…one of these days it’s going to be too much to bounce back.” Fellow midfielder Sacha Kljestan says that breaking this habit starts with the team’s mentality from the first whistle. “It’s getting annoying,” Kljestan said to reporters after the game. “It’s not the way we want to start games. I think it just comes down to a little bit of focus. Our mentality has been so good to come back, but it’s like ‘Why are we putting ourselves in those positions?’ Sometimes it comes down to individual plays, sometimes it comes down to just having a good mentality from the kickoff.”

It might be surprising to hear members of the New York Red Bulls express dissatisfaction over the team’s form, given that they are the only undefeated MLS club at this point in the season. However, it demonstrates how to remain objective about your performance as a team or an individual player, no matter how much success you are having. Being objective as a player means that you take time to reflect on what has been going well for you, as well as what parts of your game still need improvement.
Through his evaluation, Kljestan recognized the importance of having a strong start to a game, in order to avoid digging a hole and having to fight back. In order for a team to do this, all players need to be physically and mentally tuned in when the first whistle blows. Start by recognizing how you like to feel in order to perform at your best when you step onto the field. Some players like to be calm and relaxed, while others prefer to be pumped up and excited to perform well. Pre-performance routines, including skills such as self-talk or mental imagery, can be effective ways to consistently get your mind and body to a state at which you are prepared to perform at your best when the game starts. Self-talk involves your inner dialogue with yourself. It can be instructional (e.g., “I need to force my opponent to her left because she is right-footed”) or motivational (e.g., “I’ve prepared for this game, and I’m going to shut my opponent down”). Also, imagery involves creating a mental picture of your upcoming performance. You can use imagery before competition by visualizing your role, the teammates you’ll need to communicate with throughout the game, and your plan for recovering quickly from mistakes. Visualize yourself starting the game confident and focused on what you need to do to be successful. In order for imagery to be most effective, use as many different senses as possible to create a vivid mental image. Having identified a part of their game that needs improvement, players on the New York Red Bulls now have an opportunity to figure out how they will individually and collectively prepare for games in the future in order to allow them to be as physically and mentally ready to perform as possible from the very beginning.


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Kaká Emphasizes Learning Opportunity Despite Orlando’s First Loss

When Orlando City FC signed Brazilian playmaker Kaká as it’s first Designated Player last summer, it was with the hopes that the 2007 World Player of the Year would add world-class talent to the club’s roster. Three games into the season, it’s obvious that Kaká has brought other qualities to Orlando as well – namely, a high level of experience and leadership. On Saturday, Orlando suffered a heartbreaking loss deep into stoppage time at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps. After Orlando had dominated possession throughout the game, Vancouver striker Octavio Rivero scored his third goal in three games in the 96th minute to give Vancouver a late win. Speaking with reporters after the game, Kaká was quick to offer perspective on the disappointing result. “Today is a great opportunity for us to learn,” he said. “It is only our third game and now, after a draw, a win and now a defeat, it is a chance for us to understand how the team will react.” The former AC Milan and Real Madrid midfielder stressed the importance of learning from the result and moving on with an effective response. “We have to improve a lot of things but the most important is learning to accept what we did wrong and having a positive reaction. I’m sure the team is going to react in a good way and we will start again on Monday and get things on track.

It’s never easy to lose a game, but losing like Orlando did on Saturday can be especially frustrating for any team. It can be a major blow to a team’s confidence, and if players and coaches do not respond effectively to these results, things can often spiral out of control quickly. After a game like this, you may experience regret or frustration with yourself over missed chances, or anger over what seemed to be an unfair result. In these moments, it’s tempting to place the blame to any external conditions that could have possibly explained the outcome, such as a decision by the referee, the field conditions, the weather, or another teammate’s lack of effort. However, leaders do not seek external excuses for their individual or team performance. Instead, leaders maintain their focus on what they control, and they take steps to learn from the experience. As Kaká pointed out, games like this provide you with an opportunity to grow as a player and as a team. Objectively evaluating these games means recognizing what you did well, “[accepting] what [you] did wrong,” and committing yourself to doing what it takes to improve on the weaknesses in your performance. Have the honesty and courage to ask yourself whether you prepared physically and mentally as well as you could have. Did you lose focus during a pivotal moment in the game? Did you communicate effectively with your teammates during difficult times? Did you put forth your best effort throughout? Bouncing back from a game like this requires that you remain honest, but objective, when reflecting on your performance. Set judgment aside, and avoid statements like “I can’t believe I let my man get behind me.” Instead, focus only on drawing the useful information from the game, and moving on with a clear plan to get better. Take the lessons you pull from your individual performance and turn them into performance and process goals for the next week of training. No player or team is ever defined by one performance. However, it is often the case that a season can be defined by how a team responds to games like this. Having faced a mental and emotional setback so early in the club’s inaugural season, Orlando’s players have an opportunity to show what they’re made of and set the tone for the inevitable ups and downs of this year.


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Dwyer: Accountable and Objective After Missed Chances

A rematch of last year’s first round playoff game between the New York Red Bulls and Sporting KC was part of the opening weekend of action for the 2015 MLS season. A 1-1 tie left both teams satisfied with their opening performance, while also providing glimpses into what could be improved moving forward. Sporting KC, for example, took 18 shots during the game, despite going down a man for the last 20 minutes. However, all of those chances missed the mark, with the exception of Ike Opara’s goal in the 50th minute. Speaking to reporters after the game, Dom Dwyer, Sporting KC’s leading scorer last year, was quick to accept some of the responsibility, having missed two close-range opportunities to win the game in the second half. “I didn’t do my job tonight,” he said. “We missed out on two points. It’s frustrating, but I’ll learn from it and improve. This one’s on me tonight. We’re a good side, and we should have won the game.” After taking responsibility for his missed chances, Dwyer was also quick to acknowledge the positives in his team’s ability to create so many opportunities on the offensive end. “The amount of chances I got tonight really shows what kind of team we have,” he said. “It’s like I always said: I’m going to get chances in this team – a lot more than last year, I can see. So once I find my feet a little bit and get back into it, I’ll put those ones away. It was a little bit frustrating, but I’m looking at it as a positive. I’ll put them away next time.”

As a player, when things don’t go well for you on any given day, it’s easy to blame your performance on something or someone other than yourself. It’s easy to shift the focus from the things you could have done better to things that are outside your control (i.e., the referee, the field conditions, mistakes by teammates, etc.). Doing so, however, shows a lack of accountability for your performance. Taking responsibility for the things you did well, and especially for the things that you could have done better, plays a big role in any player’s ability to improve on each training session or game.

Dwyer’s response to this game also shows the value of objectively evaluating your game as a player. An objective evaluation is a strategy players use to pull useful information – both positive and negative – from any game or training session. Identifying what you or your team did well in a game allows you to build confidence and better understand your strengths. In Dwyer’s case, for example, recognizing that his teammates were able to create so many chances during the game gives him the knowledge that he can rely on this in the future, as the club’s main goal scorer. Knowing that your team has the ability to create chances can motivate you to continue working when you are down a goal or two late in a game. Additionally, recognizing how you can improve on any performance is an important aspect of viewing each game as a learning opportunity. One of the mistakes players often make when evaluating their performance is that they fail to do so objectively. They judge themselves on their weaknesses (e.g., “I’m not a good 1v1 defender”) rather than simply focusing on the useful information they can pull from them (e.g., “I could do a better job of staying patient and not stabbing in when I defend 1v1”). With a long season ahead, Dwyer has plenty of time to improve on Sunday’s match. Accomplishing this should not be an issue, as long as he remains accountable and objective about his performances.


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