>Friday Lunch Special: Real Salt Lake Will Win the Supporter’s Shield

Posted: September 10, 2010 in mls
Tags: , ,

>By Evan Ream

Not many teams take much stock in winning the Supporter’s Shield in MLS each year. That is why after reading multiple tweets about the importance of this trophy from Real Salt Lake’s Chris Wingert and Kyle Beckerman, I really thought they would be the ones to win it… until Robbie Findley missed that PK last night and RSL gave away 2 points. Salt Lake was the only team remaining in contention for the Supporter’s Shield that had the ability, depth, and most of all, a desire to win it for sure. With that game in the books and countless Salt Lake fans left disappointed, I believe it is time to answer the question of “who will win the Supporter’s Shield this year?” There seem to be just five contenders left in Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Columbus, and FC Dallas. New York is close, but it looks to be just out of contention… so there’s really only four. As of 9/10, the standings look like this:

LA 23 44 13 5 5 +16
Columbus 23 44 13 5 5 +12
RSL 24 44 12 4 7 +21
FC Dallas 22 40 10 2 10 +12

This looks to be one of the closest races ever in MLS. All four of these teams are virtually assured of playoff spots, so I am not going to break down their playoff chances, but rather their chances of winning the Supporter’s Shield based on the quality of each team’s squad as well as their remaining schedule and the obvious motivational factors.

Los Angeles: 7 games remaining (5 Home 2 Away), Columbus, DC, NY, @Chivas, @Philadelphia, Colorado, Dallas. Opponent’s Points Per Game: 1.31

Outlook: LA has the easiest schedule among the four contenders (although Columbus’ opponents have the same PPG, LA plays 6 of its final 7 games at the Home Depot Center and their only away game is to the second worst team in the league), but will they be able to drag themselves out of their slump? LA certainly has the players (Donovan, Buddle, Gonzalez, Franklin, and Ricketts) and coaching (Bruce Arena) to do it, but I worry about them from a motivational standpoint. I don’t ever recall Arena placing a high value on winning the Supporter’s Shield and I am thus inclined to believe that he likely will bench key players during the last few weeks in order to rest them for the playoffs.

Prognosis: Back in June, it was an afterthought that the Galaxy was going to win this trophy but it seems like the one they really care about is MLS Cup. This being said I still see the Galaxy taking 14 points from their final 7 games and ending up with 58 points (assuming the Shield hasn’t already been won by then).

Columbus: 7 games remaining (3 Home 4 Away), @LA, Seattle, @NE, San Jose, @Chicago, @Toronto, Philadelphia. OPPG: 1.31

Outlook: Although they have a relatively easy schedule in terms of their opponent’s points per game, you have to look past the numbers to understand why their schedule is actually more difficult than LA’s. For starters, they only play three of their games at home; two of which are against teams (Seattle and San Jose) that will be more motivated to get points, as they will not have locked up playoff spots by the time they visit Columbus Crew Stadium. Two of their games that you would think were gimmes (New England and Toronto) will actually be two of their tougher games in the season. New England has actually taken as many points at home as LA has this year and Toronto has lost one game at home. Columbus definitely has the talent and depth to win the Supporter’s Shield but I just wonder if they might focus more on the US Open Cup Final and the MLS Playoffs. It will all really depend on what happens this weekend. If they win in LA, they obviously go for it. I think they also do if they draw. However, if they lose I think they focus more on those other two competitions.

Prognosis: The two-time defending Supporter’s Shield winners definitely want to retain their title to tie DC’s record four-trophy hold; however, I find their schedule to be too daunting for them to retain it. I project Columbus to get 12 more points this year and end with “only” 56 points.

Real Salt Lake: 6 games remaining (3 home 3 away), Chicago, Colorado, @NE, @NY, Dallas, @Colorado. OPPG: 1.45

Outlook: I believe RSL has the most depth in MLS and are actually the best team. Right now, I would take Salt Lake to beat any other team in MLS in a single game. They have too many good players to not be capable of beating any team. Despite them having the fewest remaining games among the five teams in contention, I like them because I like Jason Kreis. Kreis is a different kind of manager (who should be considered a future USMNT coaching candidate). He is a part of the new generation of coaches who also had a long and successful career in MLS as a player. He clearly understands the league from every standpoint. The reason I like them the most is because of their motivation factor. Salt Lake has been on a mission the whole season to prove that last year’s MLS Cup wasn’t a fluke. They are one of the few teams that haven’t given any flat performances throughout the year. You can genuinely see that they want to win every game that they play in. The only other negative about this team is that they are playing in the CONCACAF Champions League, giving them four extra games leading up to the playoffs.

Prognosis: Believe it or not I see RSL actually winning five of their last six games to give them 15 points and 59 points overall. Yes, I realize this seems unrealistic given their tough schedule, but I believe in this team more then I believe in any other MLS team right now.

FC Dallas: 8 games remaining (4 home 4 away), @San Jose, NY, NE, @KC, Chicago, Colorado, @Real Salt Lake, @LA. OPPG: 1.49

Outlook: Dallas has proven that they are the hardest team to beat (just two losses), but they also have the hardest schedule remaining. I really like this team in the playoffs (because of their inability to lose games) but they drop far too many points to make a good run at the Supporter’s Shield. On paper with just 17 goals allowed, it would appear that Dallas has one of the best defenses in the league, but this is not true. Their defense is good but it has been ravaged by injuries lately. Kevin Hartman has been standing on his head all season (side note: why was Dario Sala ever a starting GK in MLS?), but Hartman has never been the most consistent keeper; I doubt he retains his form for the final eight games. In addition, Dallas has serious goal scoring issues. They do not have a single reliable goal scorer on their roster.

Prognosis: Dallas will have good but not great form for their final eight games. They will take 13 points and finish with 53 points which will be a vast improvement that very few people (*cough* THIS *cough*) expected.

According to my projections, the final standings will then look like this:

RSL 30 59 18 5 7
LA 30 58 17 6 7
Columbus 30 56 16 6 8
FC Dallas 30 53 13 3 14

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