Los Angeles Soccer: Supporters' Shield
With the Galaxy in the MLS playoffs, we'll try to answer some of the pertinent questions as the postseason moves on.
What most other countries call “champion” -- including all the big leagues in Europe and most in South America, too -- Major League Soccer calls “Supporters' Shield winner,” except it means so much less.
Play the season, add up all the points, and the team on top -- the Galaxy this year and last (and in 1998 and 2002) -- wins the Shield and is seeded first for the playoffs. They even get this nifty trophy, but it's the MLS Cup championship that really matters, even if it only requires three or four wins.
Winning one doesn't have anything to do with winning the other, as we've seen the past two seasons, when eighth-place Real Salt Lake and seventh-place Colorado celebrated MLS Cup victories. With so much parity and so little scoring, anyone who makes the playoff field has a realistic shot at the championship, and the team that prevails more often is the hot side, not necessarily the best.
How have Supporters' Shield winners fared in the postseason? They've been hit and miss.
Five have captured both trophies (D.C. United in 1997 and 1999, Kansas City in 2000, the Galaxy in 2002 and Columbus in 2008), which means 15 have failed. Only one other Shield winner has reached the title game -- Chicago lost to San Jose in the 2003 final -- and five others have come within one win of playing for the title.
Four Shield winners (Columbus in 2004 and 2009, San Jose in 2005 and D.C. United in 2007) failed to get out of the first round, and four (Galaxy in 1998, Chicago in 2003, San Jose in 2005 and Columbus in 2009) were knocked out by the team that went on to win MLS Cup.
Are the Galaxy favorites?
If not the Galaxy, then who?
Who could be L.A.'s wild card?
What's with this playoff format?
TORONTO -- This is where the Galaxy wanted to be, planned to be: In Canada's largest city, preparing for Sunday's MLS Cup title game, 90 minutes from the club's first Major League Soccer championship in five years.
The disappointment from last weekend's loss to FC Dallas in the Western Conference final slowly is ebbing away, replaced by a broader perspective of what the Galaxy accomplished over eight months and what will be required to reach next year's goal: winning the MLS Cup title, of course.
L.A. posted the best record during MLS's regular season (18-7-5) -- that would have meant the championship in most leagues on the planet -- it won the Western Conference title, claimed the Supporters' Shield for the third time (gaining entry to the group stage of next season's CONCACAF Champions League) and came just a handful of miraculous Kevin Hartman saves of reaching an MLS-record seventh title game.
All in all, not bad. Just not good enough.
“It hurts. There's only one team that's happy at the end of the year,” defender Todd Dunivant said a few days after FC Dallas' 3-0 triumph ended the Galaxy campaign. “It was a tough ending for us. We had every intention to get back to the Cup [after losing on penalties to Real Salt Lake in last year's final] and win it this year. But we've looked at the positives, too. We won the Supporters' Shield and qualified for the Champions League, so there are a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts acknowledges “it means a lot to lead the regular season. It's good. But in this league, it means nothing. Ultimately, you have to play the playoffs and get to MLS Cup. So the Supporters' Shield is only a consolation for me, personally.
“It's not bad we got some silverware. But that's not what I play for. I play for MLS Cup.”