The Supporters Shield is a no frills trophy, given every year to the MLS team that has the best record in the regular season. On Sunday evening, it was the New York Red Bulls who captured the Supporters Shield for the second time in three years, lifting the award after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
And the trophy needed to come back to New Jersey following the match except there was one hitch: The traveling Red Bulls supporters took it and partied with it after the match. Of course they took it with permission, but it created a logistical issue.
Just how will the second ever trophy in franchise history get back to the tristate area safely?
On the surface it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine fans of the New England Patriots grabbing the Vince Lombardi Trophy and taking it downtown for a couple Pabst Blue Ribbons and some photos for their Facebook profiles. But that is the beauty of the shield, designed by the fans very much for the fans.
For the first few years of MLS, the hallmark of America’s young soccer league was the MLS Cup, awarded to the winner of the MLS Cup playoffs every year. But throughout much of the soccer-playing world (and most of the world plays soccer), there is no such thing as the playoffs. So that means that the top team in the regular season is crowned the champion of the league. No playoffs means no cup final.
In MLS unlike most leagues throughout the world, the regular season was devalued.
So to honor that mentality but also reward the team that showed the most consistency throughout the regular season, the Supporters Shield was created in 1999 by supporters from across the country pooling their money together to have an honor for the league’s top team in the regular season. The award is now so mainstream that the winner of the shield receives an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Despite its growing importance, it is still at its core an award by the supporters and therefore is relished by supporters, perhaps even more than by the team they cheer on.
So after the Red Bulls won on Sunday night, the players took the shield – an actual, literal shield – and lifted it up with the hundreds of traveling supporters in a far corner of the stadium. Some, such as midfielder Felipe, went into the crowd to lead in the chants. Others such as head coach Jesse Marsch embraced fans and screamed with joy. It was a trophy and a sign that the Red Bulls, written off as one of the worst teams in the league during preseason, had earned a little respect.
From the field, the shield went to the locker room and then eventually to the Red Bulls fans who were at a nearby bar, Finley Dunne’s Tavern, where they were whooping it up. They stayed there until the wee hours of the morning and took it back to their hotel.
At 8 A.M. several of the supporters met a member of the team’s operations staff at the airport and gave it to him for transport back to New Jersey. The Red Bulls staffer served as the official caretaker of the shield on behalf of the Supporters Foundation.
Here is where the typically understated award, not talked about as much as MLS Cup and perhaps a bit overlooked, was handed off. The team official then took the Supporters Shield with him back to New Jersey.
And he did so with the Shield as part of his carry-on luggage. Oh the understated Supporters Shield, tucked in next to a company laptop and a neck pillow. And a crumpled up copy of Sky magazine.
No word on if white gloves were worn at all times during this trip. We kid, we kid. But it is still neat that the organization wanted to care for its new trophy and safeguard its journey back to New Jersey.
In 2013, a new shield was designed and is now currently being utilized. Fans from across the country raised $17,000 to fund the new shield.