The MLS Supporters Shield is great. Let's have more
Please go to the ESPN college football standings page and scroll down. Notice anything that maybe you don’t see from other standings / tables / posiciones?
Every conference has two sets of standings: CONFERENCE and OVERALL. Look closer and you’ll see that the sorting of the standings is by the conference record. The overall record may be important for the handful of teams that are vying for the national championship and the spot in the College Football Playoff, but for most of the country the conference record is tracking the team’s actual progress - towards the conference championship, or more commonly towards the division championship, at title which includes a spot in the conference championship game.
I mention this because last week, MLS released their format for 2022. Charlotte FC is joining the league next season, bringing MLS to 28 teams. Nashville SC is moving to the Western Conference so that there will be 14 teams in each conference, but the 34-game season is staying put. Each team will play home and away against the other 13 teams in its conference, and then play eight games against the opposite conference.
28 teams is a pretty awkward number for a league. Playing the traditional home-and-away double round robin would require 54 games, which is too many - but reducing that to a single round-robin leaves just 27 games, which is too few. Anyway, MLS had an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference even when the league was just 10 teams. But with 14 teams in each conference, the league is at the point where it is less a single league, and more like two.
If the league is going to break itself into two parts, I say they lean into it. I want to see two columns in the standings next year - one for CONFERENCE, one for OVERALL.
The overall standings can still determine playoff places and the overall Supporters Shield, but I want to see a Supporters Shield — a president’s trophy? A conference cup? The Wondo Trophy and the Valderamma Trophy? something, anyway (and the first person to suggest Legends and Leaders for this gets slapped upside the head) — awarded to the winner of each conference. Both conferences are playing a perfectly even double round-robin, so let’s give the winners something. These championships should also have berths in the CONCACAF Champions League. Should the trophy winners also get the top conference seed in the playoffs? Hey, you said it, not me, but I’m glad we’re talking about these things.
I don’t love geographic conferences, if I’m being honest. They’re annoyingly Eastern-centric, because half the United states population lives in the Eastern time zone; any benefits of reduced travel or convenience are all for those in the East. (Ask fans of the six Western Conference teams in the Central Time Zone how much they like repeated 9 or 9:30 pm starts for games on the West Coast; ask Nashville SC about travel, given that it’s now in a different conference from the five nearest MLS cities to central Tennessee.)
MLS is now at a point where it’s two regional leagues with some inter-league scheduling, though. And since we all know that the Supporters Shield is a great trophy, let’s have more. Name them what you will; award the original Supporters Shield the same way we always have, for tradition’s sake, if you must. But if we’re going to have these two regional conferences, they should matter for something more than just scheduling.