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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It Happens to the Best: Di Maria Struggles Through Recent Poor Performances

Despite a very strong start to his time as a Manchester United player, Angel di Maria is facing a recent drop in form that has led to criticism from fans and the media. So far this season, the 27-year-old Argentine midfielder has only scored three goals across 19 Premier League matches, and has struggled to stay fit, having been sidelined on several occasions with injuries. In United’s 2-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday, Di Maria was replaced at halftime, after not performing well in the game’s first 45 minutes. In response to questions over his teammate’s performance, United’s captain Wayne Rooney noted that it was only a matter of time before Di Maria returns to the form he displayed early in the season. “It was just one of those days that every footballer has,” Rooney said after the game. “He is a great player, he has shown that and you don’t lose your talent overnight…He has got a lot of experience and I think he will figure it out…We all have to do that sometimes. There is nothing worse than when everyone keeps going on at you…You have to come to it in your own way and I am sure he will be a big player for us between now and the end of the season.”

Being able to manage the ebbs and flows of performance is an important part of any player’s mental game. No matter how hard you train or how well you prepare, there will be days when your touch is off, you struggle to find your rhythm on the field, or you just can’t seem to get a technical or tactical part of your performance right. As a striker, perhaps you haven’t scored in several consecutive matches, despite numerous opportunities. In these moments, it is easy for players to become critical of, and overly frustrated with, themselves. While this may be your initial reaction, try to step back from some of the emotion you feel, and be objective. Evaluate your recent performances, and determine whether or not some controllable aspect of your game needs to be changed. It may be that you are not quite physically or mentally ready to perform at a high level when you step onto the field, in which case, you could tweak your pre-performance routine. Perhaps you struggle to stay focused during the game, and a refocusing cue could provide a trigger that helps you snap back to the present moment. Maybe you find that your performance tends to drop after making a mistake early in the game, and you need to examine how you respond to these moments. If you find that you are enjoying the game less because you are so focused on trying to perform well, what steps can you take to enjoy yourself on the field again?

Beyond doing what you can to focus on what you can control (i.e., routines, refocusing cues, coping with mistakes), patience is important. Recognizing that “you don’t lose your talent overnight,” and knowing that even the top players in the world go through times like this can help you cope with the feeling that you may never perform well again. Rooney’s response in this situation shows that, as a teammate, you can play an important role in helping another player deal with the frustrations of one or more poor performances. If you notice a teammate struggling, recognize that you have been or will be in their shoes at some point, and do what you can to provide your support and encouragement. Ask them if there is anything you can do, such as working with them after training, to help them get back to their best. Di Maria is undoubtedly one of the top midfielders in the world, and his return to form, while inevitable, requires patience and a continued commitment to the parts of his game that are under his control.



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Lennon Maintains Professionalism, Views Everton Loan as Fresh Start

It is probably an understatement to say that Aaron Lennon has been frustrated thus far this season. After enjoying consistent time in the starting lineup with Tottenham Hotspur for the past nine years, the 27-year-old winger has struggled to find time on the field this season, appearing in only nine of the club’s 25 league matches and starting in only three of them. As a result, when the winter transfer window offered the opportunity to be loaned out to another club, Lennon jumped at the chance. He was sent on loan to Everton, and made his first appearance for the new club against Liverpool over the weekend as a substitute. For Lennon, the opportunity to play for Everton offers a fresh start, and a chance for him to prove to himself and to others that he deserves to be on the field. “It’s been a tough year. I’ve hardly played at all this season. It’s something I’ve not been used to before,” he said. “You’ve got to be professional in situations like that. [Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino] hasn’t really explained why I’ve been left out. I’ve just kept training hard and hopefully I can take this opportunity with Everton…I still feel I’m capable of doing it for England. Hopefully if I can get a run of games and get back to the level of form I know I can reach then who knows? My immediate aim is to help Everton as much as I can.”

As a player, professionalism means that you hold yourself to high standards both on and off the field, especially when things aren’t going your way. It is never easy to cope with limited playing time. When you are working hard, and doing all the right things on a regular basis, it’s natural to want to see rewards for your efforts and it can be frustrating when those rewards don’t come. In these moments, it can seem easy to blame other people or circumstances outside your control. Many players begin to show less focus or effort, because they spiral into a pattern of self-pity. However, as with any other form of adversity (e.g., an injury, bad calls from a referee, a talented opponent, etc.), it is important to cope with the cards that you have been dealt. While you may not have the opportunity to “transfer” to a new team, the best way to cope with your situation comes from focusing on what you can control, and even figuring out a way to engage in your own form of a “fresh start”. Perhaps you begin to arrive early to training to put extra work into some part of your game. Or perhaps you start by getting in an extra run on the weekend, or doing yoga on a daily basis, to boost your athleticism, stamina, or resistance to injury. You can also communicate with your coaching staff, and ask them about adjustments or improvements you can make to your game that will allow you to see more time on the field. Whatever you decide to do to take control, it should involve coming to terms with the frustration of your particular circumstances and figure out a way to persevere in spite of it. While Lennon’s loan to Everton offers him a fresh start with a new club, his ability to continue focusing on what he can control will be the most important factor in determining his future at the club and international level.


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Loic Remy: Opportunistic and Hungry to Prove More

With Diego Costa suspended for Chelsea’s Wednesday night match against Tottenham due to yellow card accumulation, head coach Jose Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba and Loic Remy to fill in for the Premier League’s second highest scorer. While there were concerns that Chelsea would struggle in Costa’s absence, both Drogba and Remy scored and guided the club to a 3-0 win. Remy’s response to this opportunity was particularly impressive, as the 27-year-old has only played 160 minutes this season, due to a groin injury and Costa’s goal-scoring form. While Drogba started the game, Remy took his place in the 67th minute and scored Chelsea’s third goal to secure the win. “For me it’s important. I took my chance and scored this goal,” Remy said. “I feel really proud to be on the bench but of course I want to play, that is why I work hard during training sessions…I try to increase my level and improve and it is really good to work with them, and every time the manager wants to use me, I try to do my best. The opportunity was there because Diego wasn’t involved…it was good for the confidence for me to come in and score.

Remy’s ability to deliver when he was called upon provides an excellent example of a player who has remained patient, opportunistic, and hungry, even though he has struggled for playing time. As a player, it is not easy to continue working hard in training, only to have to watch from the sidelines during games. This experience can be frustrating and, in some cases, may even seem unfair. However, the opportunistic players are the ones who remain patient in the face of this challenge. They continue working hard in training and wait for the chance to prove they belong on the field. Opportunities for playing time can arise at any time and for any number of reasons, and as a reserve, it is important to be ready when this happens. Above all, focus on what you can control throughout this process. Arrive early to practices, mentally and physically prepared to put in the work and improve your game. Identify ways to dedicate yourself even further to your development, by improving your nutrition, your sleep habits, or your fitness outside of training. It can also help to ask your coach about things you can do to earn more opportunities in games. When he or she gives you information, receive it as feedback and make a specific plan for yourself concerning how you will use the information to your advantage. Whether in training or on the sideline in games, provide effective communication and support to your teammates to help them perform to their best. Finally, when you do get the opportunity to contribute, focus on playing to your strengths. Often, the players who are given more opportunities in the future are the ones who step onto the field and do the simple things consistently well, demonstrating to the coach that he or she can rely on them. Chelsea faces a full schedule of upcoming games this winter, because the club remains in the running to win several trophies. With his continued patience, hunger, and hard work, Remy will likely play an important role in his team’s attempts to claim these titles.



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Hammon’s Latest Success Yet Another Display of Perseverance

At 5’6”, Becky Hammon enjoyed an impressive college career as a point guard at Colorado State, being named an All-American while setting an array of CSU all-time records, including most career points, highest points-per-game, most free throws made, and most career assists. However, after college, she was not immediately drafted into the WNBA, and instead, later signed with the New York Liberty and was forced to play several seasons as a backup point guard. After becoming a starter and a team co-captain in 2003, Hammon immediately began to cement her place in WNBA history, earning six league All-Star selections over the next nine seasons, and became only the seventh player in history to score at least 5,000 points. She was also named one of the 15 greatest WNBA players ever in 2011, and with her dual citizenship, earned a bronze medal with Russia in the 2008 Olympics, after failing to make the U.S. roster. After an ACL tear sidelined her in 2013, she began interning as a volunteer coach with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, attending practices and team meetings, building rapport with the players, and impressing Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich with her coaching ability and knowledge of the game. Hammon’s impression ultimately earned her an assistant coaching position with the Spurs – the first full-time coaching role for a female in NBA history. After stepping past this barrier, Hammon recently reflected on the adversity she has faced and overcome throughout her career. “It builds perseverance,” she said. “You can either let it totally discourage you or you can dig in and let it make you better.”

Whether through injuries, failing to make a team, enduring time on the bench, or struggling with a string of poor performances, many athletes fail to fully recognize the choice they have in responding to an obstacle. Allowing adversity to “make you better” as an athlete means that you make the choice to treat each experience, regardless of the outcome, as an opportunity to grow and develop into a stronger competitor and a more resilient person. After enduring a setback, take an honest and objective attitude toward your circumstances. Acknowledge whatever obstacle is in your way and come to terms with the fact that it is probably not going anywhere. Dwelling on something that you cannot change or control will not help you develop the perseverance to ultimately overcome it. Instead, focus on what you can control. For many athletes, learning from and overcoming setbacks often depends largely on their self-talk. Evaluate what you are saying to yourself after facing adversity, and decide whether this is, in fact, helping or hurting your chances for future success. If you find that, after a setback, you fall into the habit of saying/thinking things like “This isn’t fair, I’ll never make this team,” decide whether this is actually an effective way of talking to yourself. Is it serving any purpose in helping you to become a better athlete and learn from the experience? If not, make the choice to make this self-talk more effective (i.e., “I have overcome something like this in the past, and I will do so again.”). “Digging in” as Hammon puts it, refers to an athlete’s decision to accept the challenge in front of him or her, and commit to finding a way through it. Despite earning the status as one of the greatest ever players in the WNBA, Hammon has not been given an easy path there. In her newest role, as the Spurs assistant coach, and the first female in such a role, she will inevitably face further challenges in the future. Her perseverance and willingness to grow from each new experience will undoubtedly earn her further success and recognition on and off the court.


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Confidence and Adaptability Carry Rogers Into a New Role

Prior to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Fire, Robbie Rogers had enjoyed only 20 minutes of playing time in 2014 for the LA Galaxy, as a foot injury sustained during preseason significantly hampered his fitness for the first few months. In fact, the 27-year old has struggled with a frustrating string of injuries and lack of consistent playing time since arriving in LA to resume his MLS career last year, seeing the field in a total of only 12 games across two seasons. However, on Sunday, Rogers – who has played as a winger for most of his career – was subbed on late in the first half for Dan Gargan, facing a relatively new role, at right back. Prior to the game against the Fire, Rogers had very little experience on the backline, playing as an outside defender in only a handful of training sessions and games with the LA Galaxy reserve team. However, his 47-minute showing on Sunday earned Rogers admiration and praise from his coach, teammates, and media, after contributing a sublime assist on Landon Donovan’s late equalizer, and helping the backline limit the Fire to three shots on frame and only a single goal (from the penalty spot). “I thought he played with a lot of confidence,” noted Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena after the game. “He hasn’t played in that position a whole lot, and he was confident. He helped set up the goal and defended well.”

As a player, what does it take to be adaptable and confident enough to perform well in a new position? This transition can be difficult and frustrating for players who are unwilling or unable to mentally adjust to the role. The difficulty of this adjustment is especially true for players like Rogers, who are more accustomed to playing further up the field and being consistently involved in the attack, and may find assuming a more defensive role unappealing or foreign. In response, when asked to play in a new spot, many players feel that they need to make drastic changes to their game in order to have success. To some extent, this is true. When, as a striker or winger, you are asked to play in the back, you will have to adjust your game to ensure that you are fulfilling your defensive responsibilities, both individually and collectively with other players on the backline. However, it is also important to bring your own strengths as a player to that new role, and draw confidence from the parts of your game you control. If, like Rogers, you are a player who enjoys getting forward into the attack, find ways to do so and contribute offensively, while also ensuring that you are meeting your responsibilities as a defender. Rather than trying to completely reinvent your approach to the game to fit the new position, recognize that many of your qualities as a player will help you have success in the new role if they are used at the right time.

For players nervous about playing in a new role, it’s important to understand that, when a coach makes the decision to place you in a new position, he or she has demonstrated belief and confidence in your ability to play there. Similarly, you have demonstrated qualities that suggest you would contribute to the team’s success in that role. With this in mind, go into the new experience willing to learn and develop, while also relying on the strengths of your game that have earned you that opportunity. With his most recent breakthrough into the Galaxy rotation, Rogers will need to continue to bring his adaptable and confident mentality to the field, in the hopes of earning further playing time and contributing to his team’s success.


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Resilience and Perseverance Carry Donovan and Edu Forward After Disappointment

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

At some point in their careers, all players will encounter setbacks or failure. The ability to bounce back and recover after those setbacks depends on an individual’s perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity. Last week, U.S. men’s national team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann released his 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer, and among five other names, prior World Cup attendees Landon Donovan and Maurice Edu were left off the list. While this was a very difficult announcement for both players, it was made, perhaps, more challenging by the fact that in returning to the MLS, they were to play in a game (against each other) three days later. Sunday’s match between the LA Galaxy and the Philadelphia Union provided an opportunity for Donovan and Edu to turn their attention back to their respective club seasons, and move on from the disappointment of the previous week. Across 90 minutes, both players rose to the occasion and met this challenge head-on. While the Union ultimately fell to the Galaxy 4-1, Edu left his mark on the game by scoring from the penalty spot in the 88th minute. Donovan’s performance was even more impressive, as the striker recorded two goals and an assist in the Galaxy’s win, and broke the all-time MLS goal-scoring record along the way. Following the game, Donovan noted that, “It’s been an emotional three days. A lot of down and a lot of up honestly…I’m just glad I could come back and contribute and help out.”

As a player, recognize that you will encounter setbacks or disappointment at some point in your career. Whether this adversity comes in the form of repeated injuries, or failing to make a team, it is important to develop your resiliency for these experiences. While initial disappointment or frustration in response to these experiences is often automatic, it is necessary to eventually shift your attention to the challenge in front of you in order to move on: continuing forward with renewed motivation and commitment to your training and your performances. Re-establish your focus on what you can control as a player by thinking about your role and your responsibilities in the next training session or game. Consider setting small process goals for yourself (i.e., running several times per week to increase your fitness) to keep your attention in the present moment, rather than on the past, and help you train to fulfill your role and responsibilities.

Another way to recover quickly from disappointment is to focus on your strengths as a player. This was evident in Donovan’s play on Sunday. The build up to his first, and record-breaking, goal was a testament to his exceptional qualities on the field: his vision, his ability to thread a pass on the run, and his movement and timing off the ball in receiving the return pass back from Robbie Keane. Like Donovan, after a setback, return to the basics of your game by relying on the strengths that have brought you success in the past – such as your communication, your hard work, or your vision or composure on the field. The omission of players like Donovan and Edu from the World Cup roster shows that even the greatest players face disappointment at times. Those players with the resilience to rise above this adversity and focus on what they can control are often the ones who are quickest to bounce back.



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