Finding the one stat that defines each team's run to the Conference Championships

Columbus Crew SC, the New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers have all reached the Conference Championship after an arduous 34-game season and at least two Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoff games (three for Portland).

The ways in which they have been able to make it this far are varied. Each have relied on a particular style of play that has defined their season and ability to get this far.

You can see those styles of play in some statistics that these four teams have been able to produce throughout the course of the season. Here's one for each:

Columbus Crew SC: Crosses from Open Play

When you have Kei Kamara on your team, it is no surprise that Crew SC led the league in crosses attempted from open play. 

Finding the one stat that defines each team's run to the Conference Championships -

As you can see from the table above, Columbus attempted 115 more crosses from open play than any other team in the league. The difference between Crew SC and the No. 2 ranked Portland Timbers is about the same as the difference between Portland and the No. 12 ranked Toronto FC.

Gregg Berhalter's team wasn't just attempting a ton of crosses but they were completing them at a high rate. Crew SC completed 27.26 percent of their open play crosses, the second highest rate in the league. The only team to complete a higher percentage is FC Dallas (27.46), who attempted almost 400 fewer crosses than Columbus.

New York Red Bulls: Opponent Passing Accuracy in Own Half

When Jesse Marsch was hired as the new head coach of the New York Red Bulls, he built his team to do one thing.

High press.

And they have been successful in that endeavor as the Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield this season and were able to do so largely because of their style of play.

With their high-press system, the Red Bulls haved allowed their opponents to complete just 84.14 percent passes in their own half. That may not sound all that impressive but consider that is the lowest percentage any team has held their opponents in that statistic since 2010. It was also easily the lowest this season.

Finding the one stat that defines each team's run to the Conference Championships -

Portland Timbers: Shot Conversion Rate

This stat is a bit different as we are only taking a look at portions of the Timbers' season.

Portland's late-season surge to the No. 3 West and ultimately the Conference Championship was at least in part sparked by the formation shift to put Darlington Nagbe in the center of midfield.

The main reason they were unable to collect maximum points before this time came down to their inefficient finishing. Despite taking the second-most shots per game in the league, they had the second-fewest goals.

But since the formation switch, all that has changed.

Despite taking fewer shots, the Timbers have actually seen their goals scored per game skyrocket. Their shot conversion rate, which is goals divided by totals shots, has gone from a miserable 6.98 percent to a respectable 17.07 percent.

Timbers Before/After Formation Switch
PeriodShots/GameConversion Rate

FC Dallas: Dribbles

Ever since Fabian Castillo joined FC Dallas back in 2011, he has been the most prolific dribbler in MLS. That did not change this season.

Opta defines a dribble as "an attempt by a player to beat an opponent in possession of the ball." Basically it's when a player tries to take on another player in a 1v1 situation.

Finding the one stat that defines each team's run to the Conference Championships -

Like Crew SC, not only did they exceed other teams in a specific area, they also were efficient.

Even though they attempted the most dribbles of any team, they completed those dribbles at a rate of 43.08 percent, good for the fourth highest rate in MLS.

Castillo led the way attempting 265 dribbles just by himself and completed them successfully 43 percent of the time.

Michael Barrios (92), Mauro Diaz (79) and Ryan Hollingshead (62) also attempted more than 50 dribbles individually.