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
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