Where the unbalanced schedule, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup champion intersect
A moment of clarity pounced tenaciously Saturday while watching MLS contests: did we all underestimate the new unbalanced schedule’s effect on things to come in MLS – like the Supporters Shield and, by extension, the MLS Cup favorite?
I experienced this rare moment of clarity while watching two particular MLS heavyweights in matches playing out on opposite coasts. I cannot for the life of me understand why this notion never conked me on the noggin before.
Last week’s brigade of prediction pieces generally pegged the Los Angeles Galaxy or Seattle as Supporters Shield winner. A scattering booked Real Salt Lake to take the crown for most regular season points. But I watched Sporting Kansas City take down D.C. United on one coast, then later watched as Los Angeles fell to Real Salt Lake four time zones away, and I wondered if this pair of isolated results could be the key to ultimate success in microcosm.
See, it occurred (finally!) that the unbalanced schedule could have everything to say about the chase for Supporters Shield and the up-anted spoils that now accompany it. Teams like Los Angeles, Seattle, Real Salt Lake and others – Dallas? Colorado? Vancouver? San Jose? All were winners this weekend over Eastern sides – are going to spend the year kicking the bejeebers out of each other, stealing points from one another, etc.
Meanwhile, no one needs to backpedal on Sporting Kansas City as the nearly universal choice to claim the Eastern crown. Peter Vermes’ crew was in control over D.C. United at RFK Stadium, eventually turning up the winning goal in injury time.
Now admittedly, my little crystal ball doesn’t always perform perfectly. For instance, I was dead certain the wearable PC was going to catch on.
But if that rascal is working correctly today, here’s what I’m seeing: Sporting Kansas City will battle Houston and maybe Chicago, eventually pulling away from the fellow Eastern chasers. The extra points they gain by virtue of additional matches against the other (weaker) Eastern Conference sides will reap the biggest reward in terms of improving Supporters Shield odds.
And guess what that means? If the Midwest bunch gets through the playoffs (granted, a big “If” as we sit here in March), finishing with the best record now means hosting the final, which would surely improve Sporting Kansas City’s chances of winning the whole shebang.
So, on third thought, perhaps some of those predictions of L.A. as repeat champs need re-calibrating, too.