February 14, 2011

MLS Supporters Shield vs. MLS Cup: Backe considers Cup secondary to Shield

The common, collective goal amongst Major League Soccer clubs is usually the same season-in and season-out: win the MLS Cup, the award given to the champions of MLS for that year.

For Hans Backe and Red Bull New York, the tables have turned. This morning, in an interview with the New York Post, Backe declared that New York's primary goal entering 2011 will be to win the MLS Supporters' Shield, winning the Cup is nothing more than a "nice edition".

Immediately following the news, Backe received praise and awe amongst the hardcore fans, and raised the question amongst the American soccer community: is the MLS Cup the truest way to determine the league champion, or is obtaining the most points over the regular season the real champions?

It's an enduring debate amongst the MLS community, fitting in with the argument of conference vs. the single table, open league vs. closed league models and academies vs. draft. Primarily because they are the last of their kind. These few differences MLS has with the rest of the world are the remaining Americanizations in MLS, and will likely continue until either the league disbands or docks them for good.

What's interesting about this, is that the debate is not being ignited by a rowdy hardcore soccer purist, but rather, a coach in the league itself. One who is openly stating that the Shield is league title, while the Cup is a cute post-season tournament. If anything, Backe probably envisions the U.S. Open Cup as more prestigious than the MLS Cup Playoffs; I do too.

Obviously, a lot of his thought behind the Shield comes from his past coaching experience in Europe, where at the end of the regular season: that's it. You finish in first, you're the champion. Second? Sorry, better luck next year.

As he stated, the Shield does deserve more emphasis, and probably needs to become the primary award for MLS. Teams need to vie for the Shield, and not slack off thinking the Cup is there for them. What needs to happen is the thought that the Cup is the consolation prize.

Changing the American soccer landscape into that mindset would not be the most difficult, since most are engaged to European's sports structure, but to owners, a different story. However, Backe is likely getting leeway due to his impressive turnaround, and how trophy-starved New York is, any title is something.

This post was also featured on Bleacher Report – MLS

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Tyler Walter

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