What The Supporter’s Shield Really Means


Major League Soccer follows most of North America’s sport rituals. After the regular season, clubs which have qualified, participate in a playoff to determine the Major League Soccer champion. With leagues all around the world determining their champion through regular season play, an idea was born. Supporters of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion came up with the Supporter’s Shield.

The plan called for the Shield to be given to the Major League Soccer club with the season’s best record. The MLS Supporter’s Summit in 1996 failed to agree on the Shield, and it was quickly dismissed. The dream however, continued to live. With the leadership of soccer enthusiast Sam Pierron, and donations from all across the country, the Shield survived. At the second MLS Supporter’s Summit in 1999, the first Supporter’s Shield was awarded to the Los Angeles Galaxy for their play during the 1998 season.

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  • The award was finally recognized by Major League Soccer in 2006, with the league handing a CONCACAF Champions League place to the winner of the shield. Using the original plate created for the award, MLS gives the Supporter’s Shield winner a trophy, while the supporters of the club are given the Shield for that season. The Shield is passed between supporter groups following the conclusion of each campaign.

    Engraved on the Shield, are all the names of the winners of the award, including those prior to the Shield’s existence. For the first time in North American sports history, the fans had created the history. While the league had striven to be like most North American sporting associations, the supporters took a page from the sport’s origins. With many believing that the playoff system had no place in Major League Soccer, their request for a real champion had been heard and answered.

    Still to this day, the original reasoning for the award remains. Since Major League Soccer’s inaugural season, only six times have the Supporter’s Shield Champion won the MLS Cup. Basing a league champion on only 5-6 matches instead of a full season’s work, is the way of North American sports. For a league which has stayed under twenty teams since its inception, a playoff format is not right. All around the world, Champions are decided by a full season’s worth of work. Why does the MLS have to be different?

    Playoff systems keep with American tradition, but why does MLS have to go with the program? The Supporter’s Shield was created by the supporters, for the supporters. The playoff system is good for creating those can’t-miss moments, but it also deprives teams of their form during the season. Being the best during the season means nothing in Major League Soccer. Good runs of form at the end of a long campaign are all that matters in this league.

    The Supporter’s Shield give clubs and their supporters an award for being the best club that season. Being recognized by Major League Soccer in 2006 was just step one of this plan. Ending the playoff format which dominates North American sports today will be needed if MLS wants to compete in North America’s sports landscape.

    Each major league has something to separate them from the rest, Major League Soccer needs theirs. Crowning the Major League Soccer Champion through the Supporter’s Shield is what needs to happen. For the Supporters of MLS, hopefully that change will occur sooner rather than later.