It is an interesting question that plaques fans around Major League Soccer, and one that RSL fans are familiar with, “What matters most”? Each year there are four trophies that MLS teams have a chance to compete for, the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and a select few teams compete for the CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Which of these is the most important for teams and their fans?
I think that the Supporters’ Shield has lost a lot of the prestige it once held, now I know that some people will say that the new format of the season shouldn’t matter as MLS often played what was an unbalanced schedule in the past, and they are correct. What those people miss is that in every season before 2012, every MLS team played every other MLS team at least twice a year, once at home and once away. 2012 marks the first time that the schedule failed to at least have that commonality to it, and while teams often would play more than those matches, they always at least played those. So while the Supporters’ Shield holds a lower spot for many than it once did, it does still hold a couple of huge rewards for the team that wins it. First, the team with the best record can look forward to being the home team throughout the playoffs and that includes hosting MLS Cup if they make it that far. Second, and maybe more importantly is a spot in the following years CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
Then there is the red headed step child of soccer in the US, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. I am not sure why this tournament has failed to take grip in the US, but I believe a part of the reason is that while soccer is very popular in the US, the lack of TV coverage both of MLS and the US Open Cup mean few people know the players or teams. Of course some of the soccer purists I know will say that US Soccer’s constant changing of who can play in the tournament and how hosting rights are determined also hurt the legitimacy of the US Open Cup. I am not sure if the US Open Cup will ever become as popular and important to fans and teams as it should be in the US, until there are core changes in the tournament, but while there is prize money at the end of the rainbow again the biggest prize is a coveted CCL spot.