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A Brief History of the MLS Supporters’ Shield

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What’s the big deal about this thing anyway?

With only two games left in the Atlanta United season and lots of talk about the Supporters’ Shield race, I thought it might be helpful to give a brief history of the Shield.

I should disclose here that I have been a member of the Independent Supporters Council (ISC) representing Atlanta for the last 3 years. The Supporters’ Shield Foundation was created by ISC as a separate entity to “fund, promote, and protect the Supporters’ Shield” and the board of the foundation is elected annually by ISC.

Back when MLS was new in 1996, there was no trophy for the team with the best record during the regular season. That team got top seed in the playoffs. The following year, one of the supporters of the Tampa Bay Mutiny suggested a Supporters’ “scudetto,” which is Italian for “little shield.” Nothing actually happened until the scudetto idea was brought up again in 1998 and the supporters started soliciting donations.

After receiving significant donations from former ESPN play-by-play analyst Phil Schoen and then-commissioner of MLS Doug Logan, along with donations raised by supporters groups all over the country, the plan for an off-the-shelf trophy was scrapped and one was custom made.

You can read the full story about the Shield and its history here.

Rumor has it that the first trophy “disappeared” a few years ago and was never handed off to the next winner the following year. The current trophy was then created after thousands of dollars were raised by supporters groups across the US and Canada. Additional funds were raised from the sale of scarves (always a hot commodity!).

The current shield is a large round plate with a removable center ring that has every team that’s won and the year they won engraved on it.

The Shield just after it was created in 2013.

It should also be noted that the Supporters’ Shield is owned by the supporters. There is no corporate sponsor. The league and its teams do not have any rights to the Shield. It’s never going to be the “<insert company name here> Supporters’ Shield” or “the Supporters’ Shield brought to you by <company name>.” It’s unlikely that there will ever be any Supporters’ Shield merchandise made or sold by the league or any team. There have already been a few unsuccessful attempts to do that.

The Shield does not stay at a club’s front office. It is kept by the supporters, and as you can see below, it is well guarded.

Supporters’ pets “guarding” the Shield
Amanda Ianetti (top) and Steven Ferrezza (bottom)

Heading into the final two match days of the regular season, Atlanta United are 1 point ahead of RBNY for the Shield. If Atlanta beat Chicago and RBNY lose vs Philly this weekend, the Shield will come to Atlanta. If both teams win, draw, or - perish the thought - lose on the 21st, but Atlanta wins in Toronto on 10/28, I will be on hand at BMO Field to pick up the trophy from the Red Patch Boys.

These are exciting times, folks. In only their second year of existence, Atlanta United are close to winning multiple trophies. I may be a little biased, but for me, winning the Shield is just a little more exciting than winning MLS Cup - although that would be pretty gosh darn amazing, too. Let’s get it! #VamosATL!

*Note: edited to correct the scenarios in which Atlanta United could win the Shield this weekend.