With the 2014 MLS regular season winding down, teams are starting to make that final push for the coveted Supporters' Shield, the annual award given to the team that finishes the season with the most points.
In 2013, the race for the Shield was extremely tight with three teams finishing within three points of the winners, the New York Red Bulls. The top of the standings isn't as jam-packed this season as years past, but there are still a few teams that are in great position to finish strong and take home the Shield.
Starting with the teams that have a bit of work to do, Real Salt Lake (12-6-10, 46 points, 28 GP) and D.C. United (14-9-5, 47 points, 28 GP) would need to put together a nice run to get back in the race. Not only that, RSL and D.C. better hope that the Galaxy and Sounders drop a few points along the way.
Both teams are behind Seattle (17-7-3, 54 points, 27 GP) and Los Angeles (14-5-9, 51 points, 28 GP) in the standings, and to make matters worse, Seattle has a game in hand and a chance to extend its lead.
Salt Lake and D.C. look to be in very bad shape from a points perspective. Their only solace is the relatively weak schedules they have ahead of them.
|D.C. United's Remaining Schedule|
|Sept. 20||at Chicago Fire||5-7-15|
|Sept. 27||vs. Philadelphia Union||9-9-10|
|Oct. 3||vs. Sporting KC||13-10-6|
|Oct. 12||at Houston Dynamo||9-13-5|
|Oct. 18||vs. Chicago Fire||5-7-15|
|Oct. 25||at Montreal Impact||5-17-6|
D.C.'s schedule is manageable, with its toughest match likely being a home game against Kansas City on October 3 (NBC Sports, 8 p.m. EDT). Schedule congestion may pose a problem for D.C. though, with two midweek CONCACAF Champions League games scheduled before the regular season ends.
Real Salt Lake's Supporters' Shield chances hinged on the outcome of their match against Seattle last week. A win would've put them within two points of the Sounders, but a stoppage-time goal from Andy Rose gave Seattle the 3-2 win.
|Real Salt Lake's Remaining Schedule|
|Sept. 19||vs. Colorado Rapids||8-13-7|
|Sept. 27||at Vancouver Whitecaps||8-7-13|
|Oct. 5||at Chivas USA||6-16-6|
|Oct. 11||vs. San Jose Earthquakes||6-11-10|
|Oct. 17||at Portland Timbers||8-8-12|
|Oct. 22||vs. Chivas USA||6-16-6|
Despite that devastating blow, Salt Lake still has a small chance at winning the Shield. They arguably have the easiest remaining schedule among the top-four teams in the standings.
The parity in MLS makes nothing certain, but games against Colorado, Vancouver and San Jose are very winnable for RSL, not to mention two games against Chivas USA. The only real test on paper will be a game in Portland on October 17 (NBC Sports, 7 p.m. PDT).
The LA Galaxy clearly have the best chance of catching Seattle, especially with two crucial games against the Sounders on October 19 and 25.
The Galaxy are one of the hottest teams in MLS right now, currently riding a seven-game unbeaten streak.
An extremely tough schedule still remains for LA though.
|LA Galaxy's Remaining Schedule|
|Sept. 20||vs. FC Dallas||13-9-6|
|Sept. 28||vs. New York Red Bulls||9-8-11|
|Oct. 4||vs. Toronto FC||9-11-7|
|Oct. 12||at. FC Dallas||13-9-6|
|Oct. 19||vs. Seattle Sounders FC||17-7-3|
|Oct. 25||at. Seattle Sounders FC||17-7-3|
Similarly, Seattle will also end the season with a difficult slate of games.
|Seattle Sounders FC's Remaining Schedule|
|Sept. 20||at New York Red Bulls||9-8-11|
|Sept. 24||at FC Dallas||13-9-6|
|Sept. 27||vs. Chivas USA||6-16-6|
|Oct. 5||at Colorado Rapids||8-13-7|
|Oct. 10||vs. Vancouver Whitecaps||8-7-13|
|Oct. 19||at. LA Galaxy||14-5-9|
|Oct. 25||vs. LA Galaxy||14-5-9|
The big question for the Sounders is whether or not they'll have another late-season meltdown.
In 2013, Seattle was in great position to take home the Shield with just seven games left in the regular season. It all went downhill from there as they finished with an 0-4-3 record and ended up dropping to fourth in the Western Conference.
Predicting this season's Supporters' Shield winner really comes down to the schedules that these top-four teams have.
|Strength of Schedule (Remaining Games)|
|Team||Average Points Per Game of Opponents|
|LA Galaxy||1.64 PPG|
|Seattle Sounders FC||1.41 PPG|
|D.C. United||1.17 PPG|
|Real Salt Lake||1.08 PPG|
If Seattle and Los Angeles struggle with their difficult schedules, D.C. and Salt Lake could easily jump right back into the race if they take advantage of their relatively soft fixtures.
In the end though, it seems more than likely that the Shield will be either the Sounders' or the Galaxy's. Don't be surprised if the winner is determined during the last two weeks of the regular season when the Sounders and the Galaxy play each other twice.
If LA can get a win at home in the first of the two matches, then get ready for what will surely be one of the season's most important games when Seattle hosts LA at CenturyLink Field on October 25 (NBC, 11:30 a.m. PDT).