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Climbing the Ladder: The Shield race, game by game

David Beckham

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

The LA Galaxy are in a good place right now as favorites to win a second consecutive Supporters’ Shield. They’ve resided on top of the table for virtually the entire season, ever since they tied Real Salt Lake at 12 points with the 2-1 away win against Chicago on April 17. They then defeated Portland 3-0 at home to go to 15 points on April 23, and they’ve been alone in front ever since.

But it hasn’t been quite that simple.

With teams in MLS playing uneven schedules, the standings can be a bit deceiving at times. The Galaxy may have been listed in first place, but they played a front-loaded schedule while RSL played fewer games due to the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League.

It’s easier to compare their performances by looking at the number of points each team had after the same number of games.

Check out the table here.

Looking at the pace of both, LA didn’t pass RSL until later on. Through 12 games, FC Dallas, Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake each had 21 points. It wasn’t until the 13th game for each that the Galaxy were playing at a better pace than the rest of the league. Match No. 13 took place on May 21 for the Galaxy, but not until June 18 for RSL.

At right is a look at how the current top four teams have compared throughout the season.

It wasn’t until very recently that the Galaxy got any sort of a cushion. They’ve had a share of first since the 13th game, but it wasn’t until the 19th that they took sole possession of the lead.

Though the standings have showed them in first since April, in reality it’s been a much more competitive battle.

When The Shield Race Was Over
Year Team Game
1996 TB 20
1997 DC 9
1998 LA 3
1999 DC 25
2000 KC 30
2001 MIA 1
2002 LA 25
2003 CHI 28
2004 CLB 25
2005 SJ 27
2006 DC 14
2007 DC 20
2008 CLB 21
2009 CLB 21
2010 LA 1

2. Historical Shield winners: When they entered first place for good

Recently, setting the pace for the Supporters’ Shield is a position which the Galaxy have certainly gotten used to. While having a share of first this season from game 13 is impressive, last year they had the most points from game one through game 30.

They were only the second team to lead pole-to-pole, after Ray Hudson’s Miami Fusion in 2001.

In 10 of MLS' 16 seasons, the Shield winner hasn’t taken the lead until the 20th game or later.

This year’s Galaxy team is guaranteed sole possession of first through each team’s 29th game, so any movement to dislodge them would tie or surpass the 2000 Kansas City Wizards for the latest lead change ever.

3. New England’s leads suggest missed opportunities

Last Wednesday, New England burst out to a three-goal lead in Philadelphia. Yet, they could only end up taking a single point from the encounter, as it ended in a 4-4 draw.

While it may have been a thrilling match for most, Revolution fans and players must be tired of the same old story: another blown lead.

The team managed to come back and win on Saturday against FC Dallas, but the overall record is still 5-11-12. However, despite being six games under .500 with a minus-11 goal differential, the Revs have led and trailed in the same number of games:15 apiece. Not only that, but they’ve spent 717 minutes this season in the lead vs. only 510 behind.

New England's 2011 Results
  Games Mins. Ahead/Behind
Wins 5 225-3
Losses 11 40-451
Draws 8-3 452-56

Subtracting the time trailing (20.2 percent) from the time leading (28.5 percent) leads to a positive “time difference” of 8.2 percent. Only LA (+27.6), Real Salt Lake (+21.3), and Kansas City (+8.6) are ahead of them. How has this happened?

In their 12 draws, the Revs have led eight times for a total of 452 minutes, versus trailing only three times for 56 minutes. In what’s become a theme for their season, Sébastien Le Toux’s tying goal a week ago was the fifth time they gave away an equalizer past the 80th minute.

The Revs’ 2011 has been highly unusual, historically speaking. There have only been 11 previous teams in MLS history with a negative goal differential to spend more time ahead than behind, including the 2008 New England squad that boasted a 5.7 percent time difference but a minus-3 goal differential for the season.

The big difference from that team to this one? The 2008 Revs finished 12-11-7 before they were bounced from the Eastern Conference semifinals by Chicago. This year's squad would gladly take that fate if they could.