Can a Supporters’ Shield win predict future MLS Cup glory?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: A view of the MLS cup on display at the MLS Heineken Rivalry Week Human Foosball Soccer event on May 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Heineken)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: A view of the MLS cup on display at the MLS Heineken Rivalry Week Human Foosball Soccer event on May 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Heineken) /

Many would expect for the best team in the regular season of MLS play to also have success in the postseason, but by taking a closer look, we found something interesting.

Unlike most soccer leagues around the world that determine their champion as the one with the most points among all teams during the regular season, Major League Soccer employs a system that is similar to the ones used by it’s counterparts in the North American Sports Leagues (namely MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL).

Teams that finish in the top six spots of the Eastern and Western Conferences have to navigate through a play-off tournament to eventually be crowned the MLS Cup Champion, which is the highest honour bestowed upon an MLS club.

But teams that finish top of the pile in the regular season irrespective of the conference are not simply ignored unlike in the past. They are awarded a Supporters’ Shield award for having the best regular season record in the league.

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They are also granted automatic qualification to the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League alongside the MLS Cup winners, ultimately giving them something to look forward for their consistency throughout the calendar-year.

This brings out a question: Could winning the Supporters’ Shield accurately predict future MLS Cup success?


Supporters’ Shield Winner

MLS Cup Champion

MLS Cup runner-up

1996Tampa Bay MutinyD.C. UnitedLos Angeles Galaxy
1997 D.C. UnitedD.C. United  Colorado Rapids
1998Los Angeles GalaxyChicago FireD.C. United
1999 D.C. UnitedD.C. United Los Angeles Galaxy
2000 Kansas City WizardsKansas City Wizards  Chicago Fire
2001 Miami FusionSan Jose Earthquakes Los Angeles Galaxy
2002 Los Angeles GalaxyLos Angeles Galaxy New England Revolution
2003 Chicago FireSan Jose EarthquakesChicago Fire
2004 Columbus CrewD.C. UnitedKansas City Wizards
2005 San Jose Earthquakes Los Angeles GalaxyNew England Revolution
2006 D.C. UnitedHouston DynamoNew England Revolution
2007 D.C. UnitedHouston DynamoNew England Revolution
2008 Columbus Crew Columbus Crew New York Red Bulls
2009 Columbus CrewReal Salt LakeLos Angeles Galaxy
2010 Los Angeles Galaxy Colorado Rapids FC Dallas
2011Los Angeles Galaxy  Los Angeles GalaxyHouston Dynamo
2012 San Jose Earthquakes Los Angeles GalaxyHouston Dynamo
2013 New York RedbullsSporting Kansas City Real Salt Lake
2014 Seattle SoundersLos Angeles Galaxy New England Revolution
2015 New York Redbulls Portland Timbers Columbus Crew SC

The answer is a big firm ‘NO‘.

While the winner of the Supporters’ Shield is an obvious favourite going into the MLS Cup, the double has been won only six times in the past 20 seasons of MLS soccer – 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2011. D.C United, LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City (previously Kansas City Wizards) and Columbus Crew SC are the only teams to have earned this achievement.

In many cases, the Supporters’ Shield holder doesn’t even make it to the final, despite being provided with a much easier draw than the other teams (an MLS Cup quarterfinal berth against the lowest seeded team remaining in the competition). Since LA Galaxy’s double in 2011, no winner of the Shield has managed to get past the Conference finals of the MLS Cup.

This is mainly because as a cup competition, there are fewer fixtures in the run-up to the final, which means that the teams are required to show a lot more urgency if they want to get through to the latter stages and win it. Compare this to a regular league season where MLS teams have 34 games to improve their standings in the table, and it’s a totally different ball game.


  • Judging the past 20 seasons, there is only a 30% chance (6/20) that a Supporters’ Shield winner will also win the MLS Cup in the post-season.
  • D.C. United and LA Galaxy are tied for most number of doubles won, with two each.
  • D.C United and LA Galaxy also lead the way for most Supporters’ Shield wins with four apiece, closely followed by Columbus Crew SC (three).
  • Chicago Fire are the only team to lose the MLS Cup after claiming the Supporters’ Shield and reaching the finals; they lost 2-4 to San Jose Earthquakes in 2003.
  • In 2008, the New York Red Bulls reached the MLS Cup final despite qualifying for the play-offs only on the last day of the regular season before falling to the concluding double winners Columbus Crew.