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A newcomer’s guide to the Supporters’ Shield

Explaining all about the uniqueness of the MLS postseason

MLS: Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the MLS regular season coming to an end today, the Philadelphia Union are positioned to lift the franchises’ first trophy, the Supporters’ Shield. However, just winning their first piece of hardware is not the only thing on the table this Sunday. If the Union end up in first place, they will earn home field advantage through the MLS Cup.

Now you may not understand the three things I just wrote, and that is okay. Over the next few paragraphs I am going to break down all of this, so that come Sunday you can go on social media and know what you are talking about.

We begin the lesson with the most obvious thing Union fans are talking about, the Supporters’ Shield. The trophy was born from a group of soccer enthusiasts who wanted to honor the best team of the league’s regular season. The group raised funds from supporters of the MLS clubs at the time and other boosters to create the trophy in 1999. Since the 2000 season the award has been handed out annually to the team that earns the most points over the season.

However this year it’s being determined by points per game. I know it’s kind of confusing for a first time fan. But if you think about it, not every team played a full schedule due to games getting canceled over Covid-19. Breaking this down, each team can get either 0 points for a loss, 1 point for a draw and 3 points for a win. Right now in the 22 games the U have played, they have earned a total of 44 points. If you do the math, it works out to be an average of 2 points per game the Union earned.

If the Union does finish first and win the Supporters’ Shield, they would get a financial bonus, top seed and home field advantage through the playoffs. The shield winner also earns a berth into the Concacaf Champions League. The Union already clinched a berth because Toronto FC (and other Canadian teams) can only qualify through the Canadian Championship.

You may now be asking yourself, wait what is the champions league I thought the Union played in MLS. Don’t worry let me spend the next few minutes unpacking this specific question. First, they are apart of the MLS and will still be part of the MLS next season. The Scotiabank Champions League is a continental tournament that includes 16 teams from the soccer confederations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, or Concacaf.

The knockout style tournament will take place in 2021, the tournament usually takes place between February until March. However, no word yet on when next year’s tournament will start. The winner of the Concacaf champions league qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.

Unlike European leagues, which has relegation and promotion, the MLS is one league and has a post season tournament. Right now the Union qualified for the post season and will have a chance to play for the MLS Cup. Besides lifting a trophy, the MLS Cup winner automatically qualifies for the Concacaf Champions League, if they are based in the US. However, like I stated above the Union already qualified. So if they were to win the Cup, their spot would go to the next highest-placed U.S. based team. The Cup winner also gets prize money to split between the team.

If this is the first Union game you will be watching, catch up on the past 11 seasons here. For those of us who have been fans for years, we once again have the chance to win some silverware. We have been here before, three times in the U.S. Open Cup finals, let’s all hope for a better outcome some Sunday.