Crew Cuts: What's the deal with the shield?

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Crew clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs two weeks ago, yet the club is gearing to go all-out in Sunday's regular-season finale versus the New England Revolution.

Why not take it easy for what, in the grand scheme of the MLS playoffs, amounts to a meaningless match? Columbus is seeking to secure the Supporters' Shield, the trophy awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record.

That honor won't alter the Crew's trajectory in the postseason, but it's important for two reasons:

1. By winning the Shield, Columbus secures entry into the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League tournament. The Crew can also qualify for the Champions League by winning MLS Cup, but securing the Shield and its attendant invite now would be a handy insurance policy.

2. There's also the matter of pride to consider. In most soccer leagues around the world, there are no playoffs, so winning the regular season amounts to winning the championship. In MLS, that's not true in a practical sense, but players and fans in the know place a high value on the Shield thanks to global tradition.

Many MLS fan sites and even the official MLS playoff standings have begun listing the Eastern and Western Conferences in a single table anyway, and it sure feels good to perch at the top.

Kansas City Wizards supporter Sam Pierron invented the Supporters' Shield in 1998 and retroactively awarded it to the 1996 and 1997 regular-season champions.

The Crew won its first Shield in 2004 but flamed out of the playoffs with a monumental first-round collapse. Columbus captured its second Shield last year en route to its first MLS Cup championship.

Columbus can become the second team to win back-to-back Shields after DC United in 2006 and 2007. Furthermore, an even greater accomplishment is within the Crew's reach: No club has won both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup in consecutive seasons.

Only one other squad, Los Angeles-based Chivas U.S.A., is still in the running for this season's Shield. The Crew has 49 points with one match remaining, while Chivas has 45 points with two matches left this week.

If Chivas loses tonight in Chicago, the Crew will have already wrapped up the award before Sunday's kickoff. But if "The Goats" continue their hot streak, the Crew will be forced to play with playoff intensity Sunday against the Revs in order to hold on to the hardware.

New England Revolution vs. Columbus Crew

When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Where: Crew Stadium, North Side