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The Secret to Winning in the Playoffs

Adrian was on to something...

November 22, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino (7) celebrates with his teammates after scoring the opening goal during the first round playoff match against the Colorado Rapids at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Win or go home games are about perfection in many peoples eyes. However perfection doesn’t exist. As Stephen Hawking said way more elloquently then I ever could.

So if neither team can be perfect, why does everyone involved in the team show up to work each day? Sure paying bills is a reason, but it usually something deeper then that for groups that experience success.

You can label it many different things from culture to enviornment and many others. Although it all comes down to one thing, mentality. In order to succeed at your own peak you need to have the mentality to perform at your optimal self. It boils down to how do you make high expectations a reality for your group.

In my opinion it comes down to three values that can be worded many ways:

  1. Go for it Completely
  2. Consistently Relentless
  3. Work Hard

Within this comes failure, and failure is something we never plan to address. However failure exists all around us and we need to prepare for the eventuality of it. Embrace failure and expect it to arrive, so that when it arrives you are prepared to learn from it.

I won’t address failure today, because I’m optimistic Minnesota United won’t taste that feeling again this year as long as they read my way too early preview. I’m optimistic they have learned from their failings this season, but to ignore the eventuality of failure is failure itself.

This is how you separate yourself from the pack, it’s your mentality, and Heath told everyone that this team needed to improve that earlier this month. Have they shown evidence of that so far, let’s see.

So it’s one minute into a playoff game, nobody would blame you for being precautious. See that is failing Rule #1, you need to go for it completely and part of that is being the aggressor. In minute one the team stepped up the length of the field and applied pressure in Colorado’s build up. Combine that with a mistake from the goalkeeper, and the Loons had a chance to get one early.

The aggressor doesn’t just have to be with running hard, it could be taking a chance on something that seems unlikely and the risk doesn’t outweigh the reward. You can be aggressive with the ball at your feet by finding passes that break lines of pressure, or an unexpected act of dribbling up the field. Dibassy does just this, and if there is anything Twitter scouts love more then a center back breaking lines with a dribble. This is going for it completely.

That brings me into the second core value, being relentless all the time. Relentlessness isn’t something you can turn on and off, you have to live it every second of your life. In order to be a champion, you have to kill of a team when you get that opportunity, that is relentlessness. The Loons routinely wasted chances to score and put the game away earlier then they did, and they lost focus in some key moments defensively that a better team would have taken advantage of.

I’m not saying the Loons don’t have the ability to relentless, the fact of them pressing shows that they can be relentless. I just believe they all haven’t committed to being relentless in everything that they do. They know they should have scored that, but that doesn’t change anything. They didn’t kill off the team when they had the chance, in the future that may come back to bite them. Unfortunately this wasn’t the only chance for them to finish off Colorado that they wasted.

Something you may have missed in that clip, was values one and values three. When you watch it again watch Chase Gasper’s reaction to winning the ball back, encouraging everyone up the field and then modeling the behavior when the odds of him being involved are close to zero.

Which brings me to the third value of working hard. Working hard is nothing without being accountable. Being accountable to yourself and the performance you want to have, but also to your team and the performance they want to have. The Loons for the most part excel at this, however in moments they switch off for a half of a second. Imagine DSC doesn’t make a great save, and now watch Ján Greguš reaction for a split second.

He takes a moment, just a moment, to complain and a Colorado player runs right by him. That Rapids player is the one who gets a shot on goal. This is what Heath was talking about, you cannot afford to switch off for one second at this level in the sport, if you want to be a team that wins trophies. This is a failure to meet the high expectations of competition. Now how the coaching staff deal with it comes down to the individual and the group as a whole, but the hope is that the players hold that accountable and fix it themselves. The way this group is built, that would not surprise me in the slightest.

You could see elements of complacency enter the team after the first goal and into the second half. You could also argue that Colorado stepped up and began to play closer to their optimal performance. Either way the difference between winning and losing often comes down to adapting to these situations in the game, regardless you cannot lose the “battle of the mind” for as long as the Loons did consistently if you want to win trophies.

I want to leave you with this clip because I believe it sums up the Loons core values in one clip. It’s the Robin Lod goal, but not for the reasons you may think. Watch Ethan Finlay (in the bright red cleats). Dibassy steps to win the ball in the midfield, and Finlay who had tracked back to prevent the easy switch outside is free to attack.

He immediately recognizes that he needs to go for this completely, he may not understand why yet, but it has been ingrained in him to do so. It’s the 54’ it is not easy to make this run mentally or physically with the intensity he does, it is hard work to keep the speed and intensity throughout the run. Then comes the selflessness, he could demand the ball from Robin Lod on an overlap or want to get it at the top of the 18 for maybe a better angle.

However he trusts his teammate in the 1v1 and worked 60 yards up field to prevent the other center back from going over and helping, and it leads to the goal which makes it all the more likely the Loons go through. That’s a high performance mindset.