MLS: Why the Supporters' Shield Is the True League Championship

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IOctober 13, 2011

I have been a beat writer for the Los Angeles Galaxy for the past couple of years. In both of the seasons I have covered Bruce Arena's club, they've won the Supporters' Shield.

The Shield—or, as I enjoy jocularly calling it, the "Pontiac on a Pedestal"—is given to the team that has the best regular season record. In most countries around the world, this would, in fact, be the league championship trophy.

To me, I believe this is the trophy.

Let's face it: this trophy is given to the team with the best regular season record. The team that has gone through 34 (soon to be 36) rounds of football to finish at the top of both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

This isn't an easy trophy to obtain, ladies and gentlemen on the View from Victoria Street and Bleacher Report. In a perfect world, Los Angeles would have four stars above their crest, not the two that they currently sport—both earned from winning the Americans' closest equivalent to the Carling Cup—which is of course, the MLS Cup.

D.C. United have also won the Shield four times, so their jersey would stay unchanged anyway, since that is also the same number of times they've been victorious in MLS Cups.

I'd like to take the time to thank a man by the name of Sam Pierron who came up with the idea of awarding a team for the best regular season record. Again, this is the Supporters' Shield, created by the fans.

The nice thing about winning this trophy is that a team gets to skip the crapshoot of the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League and go directly to the group stage. It's similar to the Premier League setup, in which the league champions gets direct entry to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

I think a trophy like the Supporters' Shield can be used in a way like the Badge of Honor bestowed on by numerous world football organizations, from the FA, to UEFA, to FIFA and CONMEBOL.

Say for example, Los Angeles defends the Shield next season, or D.C. United wins it. Either side would then have five Shields.

If LA wins, it would be their third straight on top of winning five in total. Should that happen, the Galaxy should be allowed to keep the Shield permanently, while the league creates a new Shield that will be passed around at the annual Supporters' Summits.

So if the Galaxy defend their prize, they keep the original Shield for good and a new one gets erected. It's an idea that I believe has long been overdue.

As for the MLS Cup, like I said before, this is the American version of the Carling Cup. Or, for non-sponsorship purposes, the Football League Cup. Every team should have the chance to take part in this tournament.

I say that the tournament for this goes side-by-side with the regular season. And the team with the best regular season record gets to host the final of the MLS Cup, which should be three or four weeks after the conclusion of the regular season.

That being said, I like the USA to allot their CONCACAF Champions League berths this way:

1. Supporters' Shield winner/Best-placed American finisher regular season
2. U.S. Open Cup winner
3. MLS Cup winner/Second best-placed American finisher regular season
4. Second best-placed American finisher/Third best-placed American finisher regular season

MLS Cup 2011 was awarded to the Home Depot Center, but the Supporters' Shield winner should be given the right  to host the event.
MLS Cup 2011 was awarded to the Home Depot Center, but the Supporters' Shield winner should be given the right to host the event.

If one Canadian team is in the MLS Cup final, then the American side gets one of the berths and the next best-placed American team in the overall league table becomes the fourth side in. And if there are two Canadian teams in the MLS Cup final, then the second and third-best placed finishers get the spots.

In any case, I don't like the MLS Cup runner-up getting a spot. Teams should be rewarded based on how they perform in the regular season, not so much a Carling Cup-style tournament like the MLS Cup.

It's a shame that Major League Soccer was founded by people who had the NFL mentality in mind—that the postseason is how a champion is determined and not the regular season like most of the world. Like the initial team "nicknames" that graced the first MLS edition in 1996, it was a wayward ploy to Americanize the world's game.

Los Angeles Galaxy fans can take solace in the fact that in spite of whoever wins MLS Cup this year, they were the true champions of MLS for two straight years. Perhaps a dynasty of Supporters Shields will be on the cards for the Galaxy.

Stay tuned.