MLS Supporters Shield

MLS 101: Supporters' Shield

In the final week before the playoffs, the MLS Supporters’ Shield was won this past week by the New York Red Bulls.

So what is this major trophy?

The Supporters’ Shield is an annual award given to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record as determined by the MLS points system. While the MLS Cup Playoffs present the road to the league’s ultimate title, the Supporters’ Shield has been annually awarded at the MLS Supporters’ Summit since 1999, and is recognized as a major trophy by the league. Since 2006, the Supporters’ Shield winner has also earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

So how did this trophy come about?  

When Major League Soccer had its inaugural season in 1996 the club with the best regular season recorded was awarded nothing more than the top seed in the MLS Cup playoffs.  

In 1997 a Tampa Bay Mutiny supporter named Nick Lawrus brought an idea to the then immensely popular North American Soccer mailing list: an award for the winner of the regular season, created and donated by the supporters.  This was almost certainly born out of Tampa Bay’s fantastic 1996 season where they topped the regular season table, but fell short of a championship in the MLS Cup playoffs. Nick proposed calling it the Supporters’ Scudetto, the same name of the trophy given to the winner of Italy’s Serie A. The word “Scudetto” is Italian for “little shield”.  

As the concept gained some traction a committee comprised of one representative from each club’s supporters group was formed to investigate the possibilities further. Despite the committee’s stance against some of the league rules at the time, such as the clock counting down from 90 and every tie ending in a shootout, the process moved forward and eventually the Italian word “Scudetto” was voted out in favor of the word “Shield”. Soon thereafter, internal committee quarreling brought funding of the trophy to a halt, but in early 1998 a second super fan named Sam Perion revived the drive to create a regular season title.  

Donations began flowing in, the biggest of which came from Phil Schoen, known to you today as Ray Hudson’s broadcast partner for many years, first on GolTV and now on BeIN Sport. Phil was formerly a play-by-play broadcaster for ESPN’s early MLS telecasts, and when he contributed a check of $500 dollars the Supporters’ Shield had hit the fast track. Further contributions from then MLS Commissioner Doug Logan and individuals and supporters groups alike eventually resulted in there being enough money to finally build the trophy. 

The original Shield was finally built and presented to the Galaxy early in the 1999 season to commemorate their 1998 Shield championship. Tampa Bay and DC United were also added to the Shield to commemorate their regular season championships in each of Major League Soccer’s first two seasons. As the supporters’ culture in MLS grew, so too did the importance of the Shield. 

Today the Supporters’ Shield goes on a tour throughout the MLS regular season, making a stop with each club’s supporters before being presented to the eventual champion. 

The LA Galaxy and DC United have each won the shield a record 4 times. 
 
The more you know.