Major League Soccer 101: The Supporter's Shield

In my continuing effort to help the legions of new MLS fans understand just what the deuce is going on around here, I hereby present another in my seemingly endless series on MLS history.

(Just call me Mr. Public Service. Or maybe Professor Public Service, since that way some freshman chick angling for a grade might do me just to be on the safe side.)

When the league began in 1996, the only team accomplishment they intended to acknowledge was the MLS Cup winner, which of course goes to the team that wins the playoffs.

A Tampa Bay Mutiny fan, whose name I'll withhold to protect the innocent, decided there ought to be a trophy for the team with the best regular season record, and if the league wasn't going to have one then maybe the fans could do it.

He got in touch with the various supporter's groups through the use of the old NAS internet soccer board (a lesson for another day). The response was pretty positive, a serious discussion commenced and a request for donations went out.

As the discussion continued, the first sticking point was the name.

The Mutiny fan wanted to call the thing the Scudetto, after (obviously) the Italian league trophy. Nobody else liked the idea. So in the true spirit of compromise he said "To hell with you guys" and dropped the whole thing.

In early 1998, Sam Pierron, a KC fan and all around bon vivant who had been in charge of raising the money before the whole thing died, decided that if nobody else was going to make this happen then he would.

Having already raised about $600, he sent out some feelers to other supporters and started the ball rolling again. He was helped in this effort by Phil Shoen, who you may recall used to be ESPN's main soccer announcer. Shoen wrote him a check for $500 and the campaign was back on track.

He found a KU metal works student who sketched a design concept (reportedly she not only worked chea but was also exceedingly cute) and brought it with him to the first Supporter's Summit, in 1998.

Altogether, and including a very generous personal donation from then-Commissioner Doug Logan - but NO league money, not one dollar - they raised a total of about $3000.

There was some strong disagreement in the beginning about whether to include points won from shootouts in the final team tallys, as sort of a demonstration to the league that nobody liked the tiebreaker. Eventually it was agreed to use the league points system while at the same time putting pressure on MLS to get rid of the shootout.

The end product cost a bit over $2200, with the balance reserved for making the yearly plaques and also as seed money for the future.

The first actual recipient was the Galaxy, who received it in early 1999 in recognition of their 1998 regular season record. The Mutiny and DC United were named on the trophy for the 1996 and 97 seasons.

The transfer and actual awarding of the thing varies widely. Most teams like to get a little mileage out of the thing by conducting a little ceremony, but the official" (or perhaps "ceremonial" is a better term) handoff is done at the Supporter's Summit the following year.

And the league finally came around and now includes an SS presentation in their league awards ceremony. Where else but in MLS is the same trophy given out three times in the same year?

The important thing to remember is this: the Supporter's Shield is not MLS property, although recently they've gotten a little possessive about it.

It belongs, collectively, to the various league supporter's groups, and is awarded BY those groups to the team that won it.

This concept has proven a little difficult for some teams to grasp, as for example the Columbus Crew front office who, when they won it in 2002, got the Fire to send it to them, whereupon they held an on-field ceremony and awarded it to some old lady.

No, I am not making that up,

She was really pleased about being the 2002 Supporter's Shield winner, as you can see. Just delighted.

This sort of thing is what happens when typically low-wattage MLS employees get involved in actual soccer related stuff.

As the years have gone by, the origin, purpose and ownership of the Shield has become a bit blurry, and it's important that MLS be reminded that it's not theirs. They didn't particularly want it, they didn't pay for it and they can bloody well keep their hands off it.

One other note:

As related above, the trophy itself was a rather low budget affair, from design through the materials used and on into production.

At the time it was what we could afford, and it'smore than served it's purpose, but it was always thought that, someday, a better, more professional version should be produced.

Some people feel that time has arrived, so stay tuned.

Thus endeth the lesson. Go in peace.