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My Two Cents

My Two Cents

October 14, 2013
The Red Bullsí Analyst on loss aversion

Chris Brandon Whitaker writes The Red Bullsí Analyst column monthly, providing ďAnalysis for a Team & Therapy for Fans.Ē

by Chris Brandon Whitaker
Special to

For this monthís session, the Red Bullsí Analyst will process the teamís recurrent problem with avoiding losses rather than winning games.

Presenting concern

The Red Bulls worry observers with their inability to impose their game upon opposing teams. Although theyíve clung to the top spot in the league for three weeks in a row, they havenít dominated opponents and have struggled to separate themselves from the pack in the standings. To win the Supporters Shield for best record in the regular season, they will have to win their two remaining games against playoff contenders.

Client history

In the past month, the Red Bulls have tied two winnable games and would have done so a third time, if not for an own goal by Dallas. Throughout the season, they have shown an uncanny and frustrating knack for playing at the same level as their opponents, no matter how good or bad. With the playoffs right around the corner, many have doubts about their ability to win decisively when it counts most.

Mental health issue:lLoss aversion

Loss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses rather than acquiring gains. Research in finance indicates that losses are twice as impactful psychologically as gains. By the same token, many Red Bullsí fans admit that losing to their rival D.C. United feels much worse than the satisfaction gained from beating them. On a broader scale, most MLS teams are cautious when on the road and will opt for a safer tie rather than compromise the defense by going forward for the win. The problem with loss aversion, though, is that it often delivers middling results, such as ties.

Associated factors: psychological grit

While the Red Bulls may put too much emphasis on avoiding a loss, they have also demonstrated a remarkable tenacity in close games. Unlike in seasons past when they capitulated too easily in games where they fell behind, this yearís team has rallied and come through with a draw on several occasions and have even squeaked by with a win in the last minutes a few times. While not very attractive, they have shown a newfound psychological grit, a determination to persevere for the entire 90 minutes.

Treatment: go with the positives

While a tendency toward loss aversion isnít a particularly exciting or reassuring approach, the accompanying grit has given this team first place in the league in addition to a fighting chance in the playoffs. Letís go with the positives and duly note some examples of psychological grit.

* Captain Clutch: While not the nominal captain of the team, Tim Cahill has earned this well-deserved nickname with his never say die leadership by example and by coming up big when the team needs it most.

* Coach Petke: Head coach Mike Petke has not instilled a beautiful style of play, but he has put his stamp on the team which reflects his own character as a player: nothing fancy, just hard work with a bite to garner respect.

* Team Spirit: Although they wonít dazzle you with individual brilliance, this team has shown that they will play for each another, cover for one anotherís mistakes, and step up when others are missing from the lineup.

* Work Rate: A hard work ethic has not only produced results on the field, but also has defined many of the unglamorous starters for this year: Markus Holgersson, Brandon Barklage, David Carney, Dax McCarty, Jonny Steele, Eric Alexander, Fabian Espindola, etc.

Introspection: are we much different?

While Red Bullsí supporters have waited 18 long years for a major trophy, probably a majority shares the same inclination toward loss aversion. Many would accept not winning the MLS Cup as long as the team does not lose in the first round of the playoffs again. Then again, with the team in first place at the latest point in the season in club history, a Supporterís Shield would be a mighty fine reward for all the gritty perseverance on the part of the players, as well as the fans.

(For a city with more psychotherapists than bartenders and a team with more issues than a magazine stand, the Red Bullsí Analyst offers therapeutic counsel rather than a cure)

"The opinions reflected in the My Two Cents columns do not express the views of the editors or management of BigAppleSoccer. com"
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