10 things we learned from the second legs of MLS’s conference finals

Dallas will mature in the coming year. If they can hold onto the likes of Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo – and my guess is that they keep one but not both of their young stars this offseason – they’ll be right back in contention in 2016. To reach the Cup, though, they’re going to have to find a top class number nine.

5. And Regardless, They Were A Year Away

Playoff victories take a certain kind of tenacity that Dallas only possessed in spades. Their talent was obvious, but Dallas had far too many players turn off mentally far too many times to make that talent really tell.

Castillo, for one, was bottled up all series long by Jorge Villafaña and Alvas Powell, and watching him sulk and play token defense must have been frustrating for Parjea.

Zach Loyd’s first-leg shocker got him replaced with Walker Zimmerman for leg two, but Zimmerman didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on Sunday. He’ll claim that Adi fouled him in the buildup to his goal on Sunday, but the truth is that Zimmerman needed to be tougher.

Dallas lacked a killer instinct. They had their chances – and it didn’t help that several of their best chances fell to Texeira – but when matched up against an organized, experienced team like Portland, they weren’t able to gut out games. Next year, it might be different.

6. What Got Into Columbus’ Defense?

The Red Bulls were only shut out a handful of times in 34 MLS regular season games, but the Crew held them over 180 minutes, only capitulating in stoppage time of the second leg under somewhat dubious circumstances.

All season, the book on Columbus was the offense was great but the defense was soft. Now, that’s changed. There are several reasons why. Firstly, the return and improvement – even in the last two months – of Trapp has been immense. An unusually elegant player for his age, Trapp’s improvement in reading the game and stepping up on the defensive side of the ball was huge in this series.

Gaston Sauro didn’t play the first game of the series, but his influence cannot be understated. Michael Parkhurst badly needed an athletic enforcer next to him in central defense, and Sauro has filled that role extremely well.

But on a day when there were no fullbacks in the MLS Best XI, the Crew fullbacks showed why they’re so important to their team’s success. Both Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful don’t get the plaudits – neither do Portland’s Powell and Villafaña – but they condense the game towards the middle and provide effective outlets going forward that are crucial to their team’s success.

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