Tight Supporters’ Shield race could help Atlanta United

There is at least one advantage to being in what looks to be a four-team race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield, given to the team that finishes the regular season with the most points, according to Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst.

“When you are battling week in and week out and you understand how important each game is that gets you ready for the playoffs,” he said. “You know you can win games that matter. You’ve got guys next to you that are ready to dig in and understand the importance. 

“We are going to have a bunch of games like that coming down the stretch.”

Atlanta United will host Columbus on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes lead MLS in points (48), but trail New York Red Bulls, which have 47 points, in points per game (2.04). Atlanta United will play the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J. on Sept. 30. The Red Bulls defeated Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium earlier this season.

Also in the mix for the Shield are NYCFC (47 points from 24 games) and Dallas (42 points from 23 games).

Winning the Supporters’ Shield is important for several reasons.

First, it would be Atlanta United’s first trophy.

Second, and of more importance, it guarantees a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Third, should Atlanta United win the Supporters’ Shield, it will likely have the most points from the combined 2017 and ‘18 seasons and will get a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, an annual tournament featuring the best club teams in North America. 

Parkhurst said the team is “shooting for the Shield” because of the bye in the playoffs. Teammate Chris McCann said the Shield is the carrot, with the bye the goal because it makes for an easier path to win the MLS Cup.

“In the big picture we want to win the whole thing,” McCann said. “We don’t want to settle for the Supporters’ Shield. We want to get first or second if we can.

“If it’s (the race) tight, it only pushes us to be better, to work harder to be better than the other teams in the league.”

Seven teams that have won the Supporters’ Shield, which looks either like a shield or a hubcap from an old Pontiac, have also won the MLS Cup in the same season. Toronto was most recent, doing so last season.

Supporters’ Shield winners

1996: Tampa Bay Mutiny

1997: D.C. United

1998: LA Galaxy

1999: D.C. United

2000: Kansas City Wizards

2001: Miami Fusion

2002: LA Galaxy

2003: Chicago Fire

2004: Columbus Crew

2005: San Jose Earthquakes

2006: D.C. United

2007: D.C. United

2008: Columbus Crew

2009: Columbus Crew

2010: LA Galaxy

2011: LA Galaxy

2012: San Jose Earthquakes

2013: New York Red Bulls

2014: Seattle Sounders

2015: New York Red Bulls

2016: FC Dallas

2017: Toronto FC

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.