A series of exit interviews is part of the winter routine inside the Sporing Kansas City organization. Before players depart for the offseason, they meet with the coaching staff to establish expectations for the following year.
Last November, the conversation with rookie winger Connor Hallisey hinged on a flaw in his mentality rather than one in his skill-set. The desire to make an impression with veteran teammates had made Hallisey passive in his play. He passed the ball often. He showed only rare aggression.
"He needed to come back (this year) with a mentality that he's not a rookie. He's not a little kid," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. "He's gotta come in and say, I'm here, and I'm playing. I'm not backing off of it."
It took one preseason training session for Hallisey to demonstrate the adjustment. Seeking playing time in a position stacked with internal competition, Hallisey managed to receive the opening day start in Seattle. And then he earned another one in the home opener last weekend.
Through two matches in his second MLS season, Hallisey has already totaled 31 percent of the minutes he saw last season. Vermes attributed the playing time to Hallisey's increased sharpness during preseason. Hallisey offered another description.
"I think the major thing for me was just confidence," he said. "You have to go onto the field with confidence and try to play the game like you know how.
"I think last year, I was more trying to belong and fit in. Now, I'm trying to show what I can do."
After the exit interview served as advice, Hallisey called the club's offseason moves more of a wake-up call. Sporting KC added two league veterans on the wings in Brad Davis and Justin Mapp.
But after both suffered injuries during the preseason, the opportunity fell to Hallisey.
"When they bring in guys like that, all you can do is say that you're going to do everything you can to prove you belong on the field," Hallisey said. "You gotta be consistent — every practice, every game, the whole season. There's so many talented guys that if you don't do that, other guys are going to do it, and they're going to take your spot."
Hallisey isn't glazing over the fact that could still happen. Davis is nearing a return to full health and made his Sporting KC debut last weekend as a late-game substitute off the bench. Mapp has started to rehab a toe injury.
But even if injuries allowed Hallisey a spot within the starting lineup, his response has drawn praise. Vermes called his showing in last weekend's win against Vancouver the best of his young MLS career.
In two starts, Hallisey has attempted five shots, placing three of them on goal. The latter already matches his total from last season.
"I think the offseason gave him a chance to reset after a long season," Vermes said. "He came back with a mentality to start moving forward, which was a big plus for him. If he keeps progressing like that, he's going to be an important guy for the group."