Armchair Analyst: Market inefficiencies, copycats and conference championships

Coaches and general managers and owners and even players are great copycats. Five years ago almost nobody in MLS played a 4-2-3-1, and now we enter the 2015 Conference Championship in which three of the four teams play that formation, and the other (Portland) are likely to play a 4-3-3.

If it works, you'll see more of it. That's the rule of thumb in all sports, not just soccer.

Usually we think of this in terms of on-field applications, but Michael Lewis's Moneyball made a whole generation of sports fans think about it in terms of roster building as well. Moneyball, you see, wasn't about fat guys who walk a lot; it was about market inefficiencies. It was about exploiting the gaps in conventional wisdom. It was about finding better ways to win on a financially uneven playing field.

Obviously the biggest issue is that Dallas had a ton of young, energetic subs (and also Blas Perez) to bring in. Seattle, because of bad injury luck, a series of mostly barren drafts (though they got two for the future in 2015), and an academy that hasn't produced MLS-caliber talent in significant numbers, didn't have the same kinds of options.

I'm not convinced the window of opportunity is shut on this Seattle group's MLS Cup chances, though. And an offseason to rest, then learn how to work together, could be just what the doctor ordered.

But let's face it: This is a big, big disappointment for a team that invested heavily in mid-summer trying to find "win now" pieces like Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez. One way or another, the 2016 season is probably their last as a unit, and planning for that begins now.


How To Disappear Completely

At one point in time the Vancouver Whitecaps looked like they had a shot at winning the Supporters' Shield. In mid-August, after taking their first Canadian Championship, some of their fans were optimistic enough to start talking about a quadruple (Canadian Championship, Shield, MLS Cup, CONCACAF Champions League).

That... hasn't worked out. Vancouver lost 2-0 to Portland on Sunday night, and 2-0 on aggregate, and never really came that close to scoring. They finished the season by getting shut out in five of their last six and seven of their last 10, and only scored multiple goals once in that span.

The season and the optimism caught up to them. So to did Portland's midfield, led by the magnificent Diego Chara:

That's his heat map, which shows just how deep and central he managed to stay, protecting the back line and allowing Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri to go forward.

Most importantly, though, is that he made the center channel a no-fly zone for the Whitecaps. Kekuta Manneh had one successful foray forward early, and that was about it:

The red triangles are unsuccessful dribbles. The green are successful. And I'm going to assume you can do the math.

Portland weren't completely dominant or irresistible, just really freaking good. Chara prevented the Whitecaps from ever getting a rhythm, forced them to the flanks, and generally ate them up. This game wasn't ever in doubt.


A few more things to ponder...

5. Let's give our Pass of the Week to Mauro Diaz, who is a magic little unicorn:

Diaz covered a ton of ground on both sides of the ball and worked obscenely hard, given his usual pedestrian defensive effort.

4. All second half I was screaming for United to switch to a 4-3-3 with Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe on the wings and Collin Martin in as a No. 10. The Homegrown kid has looked good in the few minutes he's played, and hopefully he starts to see more time in 2016.

3. The chess match between Mauro Biello and Gregg Berhalter was immensely entertaining. Biello has real chops as a coach, and I hope like hell Montreal remove that "interim" tag.

2. It's a damn shame Manneh got hurt, because he was torching everybody for the first 15 minutes. It's worth noting he slipped two or three times before finally rolling his ankle.

1. And finally, our Face fo the Week goes to Walker Zimmerman:

When your PK both wins the series and breaks the sound barrier, you get to mean mug as much as you want.

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