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So Tired, Tired of Winning

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Team form over a season may be influenced by roster use and lineup fatigue... but avoiding late season slumps is no easy task.

FC Dallas has become famous for spring success and summer swoon - its 2013 performance rated the 4th worst early/late season performance disparity from 2011-2014, after holding the Supporters Shield lead into June. In 2014, they made the playoffs, but rarely challenged for the top of the table after, once again, establishing a strong shield lead that lasted into late April. Dallas' most recent 5 game winless streak culminated in Saturday's 0-3 game against Seattle, following a 6-2-2 start. The repeated pattern invites the question: what impacts form over the course of a season, how can teams adjust to avoid dips in performance, and why haven't the Hoops figured it out by now? We know that team statistics frequently exhibit secular trends over the season - one such example came up in discussion of the Seattle Sounders' 2013 defensive performance.

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Seattle's overall defensive actions declined significantly over time - both as a team and within subsets of its formation (I should note, incidentally, that the defensive actions definition used here includes "recoveries," unlike my more recent work). More broadly, a secular decline in overall duels won by game may be observed in the 2014 data:

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...so, a temporal decline in defensive activity is not simply a feature of a single team's performance but rather a common characteristic of the league. Games become less active as the season wears on, and it's important to remember that context when evaluating the statistical performance of teams or individual players. In the past, I've speculated that such trends could be attributed to fatigue. If so do some teams deal with that factor better than others? In 2014, 11 of 19 teams had a higher average duels won per game in their first 10 matches than in their last 10. 14 teams won more duels in their first five than in their last 5 matches - the exceptions include many of the best late performers: LA, DC, Seattle and... Dallas?

Don't you love it when a narrative falls apart?

If the trend in defensive activity may be attributed to fatigue, we might expect differences in lineup usage to account for some team-by-team variation. Distributing playing time more broadly across the roster could keep the best 11 players fresh for the playoff run. However, when measurements of lineup use are plotted against the duel disparity, broadly used lineups don't defy duel decline:

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Quite the opposite, in fact. The three largest disparities in early/late season duels won in 2014 belong to the Montreal Impact, Chivas USA, and the Chicago Fire. Chivas and Montreal also exhibited the broadest lineup usage. It may be that a factor of performance in determining roster usage is overwhelming any signal of managerial use that could keep the best lineup fresh, but the loose correlation of early/late duel disparity with teams that exit the playoff race early may prompt an interpretation other than fatigue.

So tired, tired of losing, tired of losing to you.