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A History of the Supporter's Shield

A couple of our esteemed contributors to the Comments section of our amazing site asked for a rundown on the history of the Supporter's Shield, an award given to the team with the best regular season record in the MLS. Ask and you shall receive from the archives of Bill Archer and a few other sources. (Major League Soccer 101)

The Supporter's Shield idea came from the mind and heart of a Tampa Bay Mutiny fan during the 1996 season when the team was leading the league. Archer says he withholds the creative fan's name to "protect the innocent". I have my doubts that Archer actually knows the fan's name and was being tongue-in-cheek while giving a mild slap at the trophy.

The now anonymous fan first brought his idea up on the old AOL North American Soccer board.  (AOL-NAS was one of the first Internet places where you could chat with other soccer fans around the nation, a bit like Bigsoccer or Stumptownfooty. )

The NAS crowd kicked the trophy idea around for a while but what little momentum there was died after no one could agree on what to name it.  Archer explains,"...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."

The idea sat in limbo for another year.  In 1997 a man named Sam Pierron took up the torch, declaring himself to be in charge of fundraising, thinking that if no one else was going to get it done then he would. (Interview with Sam Pierron) With $600 already in hand from his local efforts Pierron started putting feelers out to the various support groups around the MLS.  

Things went slowly until Phil Schoen, who was the ESPN announcer for MLS games at the time, met with Sam and donated $500 to the cause. This donation really gave the "trophy" idea traction, more because of Phil's stature than the amount he offered.  When Doug Logan (an MLS Commissioner) pulled a large sum out of his own pocket (not MLS money)  the Supporter's Shield balance grew to $3,000 and had a powerful donors list.

In a 2002 interview, Pierron makes one clarifying remark - "The total cost of the Shield came out to be only $2200 so the rest of the money was used as seed money to cover any future costs. This leaves us a nice little nest egg to work from, to fix problems and to make a new nameplate every year. And then maybe to build a bigger and better Supporter's Shield in some years."

Another step in the process was to come up with a design.

"That year [1998] I brought with me [to the Supporters Summit] a sketch that I had made in conjunction with a University of Kansas metal works student, for the Supporters Shield. I picked her by going to an arts festival in Olathe, just wandered around looking for sculptures that I liked. And I liked hers. And I also figured that "hey she's in Lawrence, it'll be easy to communicate. Two, it'll be cheaper because she's a student and she'll do it for very little. And also, she was very cute. This is the way history happens I suppose. "

Photo of Supporters Shield

After receiving the design example, Sam took his idea to the very first Supporter's Summit, held in Pasadena in 1998. (First Supporters Summit) The Summit was formed to allow the various supporters groups to get together and discuss a wide variety of topics. Each subsequent year the Summit has been held at the MLS cup location and run by the supporters group of the host team. For example, in 2009 Seattle hosted the MLS cup therefore Seattle's supporter groups were in charge of setting up the summit.

Once the Shield was ready to be awarded there was some debate amongst the supporter groups about how to award it. Some wanted to follow the MLS points system while others wanted to leave out the points awarded for shootouts. In the end the team with the higher points calculated by the MLS points system was to be awarded the Shield.

This whole process took almost three years from conception to realization. The result of the delay was the first team to actually be awarded the Supporter's Shield was the LA Galaxy in 1999. They were awarded the trophy based on their 1998 season. The 1997 winner Tampa Bay Mutiny and 1998 winner DC United were awarded plaques and had their names engraved on the Supporters Shield.

Since the promoters of the Supporter's Shield had no affiliation with the MLS the trophy was originally hand delivered from one supporters group to another during the Supporters' Summit. The leaders of each teams supporters group are in charge of getting it to the summit or away from the summit. Most teams who won the trophy held their own ceremony upon receiving it from the front office of the previous year's winner.

The Supporters Shield has grown in recognition and acceptance to the point it is now included in the MLS awards ceremony.

What follows are some oddities about the Supporters Summit and Shield.:
If you count the front office ceremony, the MLS awards ceremony and the Supporter's Summit, you get three times the Supporter's Shield is given as an award during any given year - pretty odd. No other sport has a single award repeatedly presented.

The Supporters Summit came about as a means of expressing fan opinions, and its Supporter's Shield is its symbol. The controversy that sparked them both was how points were awarded in the standings for shoot-outs. Teams were making the play-offs that the fans didn't feel deserved it.  Even now there are a few who call for the play-offs to be done away with and the majority who say the play-offs should remain.

Some other interesting notes:


  • On only five occasions has the Supporter's Shield winner also won the MLS cup (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2008)
  • The winner of the Supporter's Shield also gains automatic qualification into the CCL (CONCACAF Champion's League)
  • DC United has won the Supporter's Shield 4 times, the most by any club.
  • One year the Fusion supporters group briefly refused to let go of the trophy.

Backe Considers Shield more important
MLS cup vs Supporter's Shield
Does the Supporter's Shield create more interest

Finally, there is one link that I think sums up all of the arguments. The article is written by a European blogger - MLS Supporter's Shield: The real glory?

How was that for a $6 answer to a 25 cent question about history?