Supporters' Shield winners can't match dominance of European table-toppers – and that's a good thing
A mere 10 points separate first place and 10th in the wide-open Supporters’ Shield race. All but three teams still have a mathematical shot of making the playoffs. Less than a handful will finish without double-digit losses.
Parity, thy name is Major League Soccer. And as 2013 has shown us once again, sustained dominance over the course of the entire regular season isn't just fleeting. It's practically unattainable.
Contrast that with European club soccer's top leagues, the international standard generally held on high, and it's easy to see why some observers might see the p-word as a detriment rather than a boon to MLS. Where is the quality of a Barcelona or Bayern Munich, they might ask?
As you can see in the table provided by Opta below, taking into consideration that the 2013-14 season is skewed by the fact that European clubs just began their respective campaigns, MLS’ regular-season winners simply can’t keep pace with their continental brethren from a points-per-game perspective.
TABLE: Points-per-game average for table-topping teams
Points per game rounded to the nearest 10th of a point.
But, in many ways, that's the point. That's why the salary cap, player lotteries, SuperDraft, allocation money and the playoff system exist. Every game is winnable – not just in theory but in practicality.
In fact, only three teams have ever broken the two-point barrier – the table above rounds to the nearest tenth of a point, meaning the 2011 and 2010 Galaxy actually fell just below that threshold.
Those three squads? The 2005 San Jose Earthquakes (2.0 ppg), 2001 Miami Fusion (2.03 ppg) and the 1998 LA Galaxy (2.13 ppg), who should be considered outliers since the league was still awarding shootout wins and losses.
And even in those cases, there wasn't much distance between the Supporters' Shield winners and the peloton. Miami actually finished tied on points (53) with the Chicago Fire, but played one fewer game – a quirk of that three-division season in which teams played either 26 or 27 matches. San Jose, meanwhile, held a five-point gap at the top, which has only been exceeded by the 2008 Columbus Crew (six) in the years since.
Unless the Seattle Sounders win their final six games to hit the mark on the nose, no team will approach the two-point threshold this season after three straight years of teams flirting with the mark. But MLS also won't see gaps of 43, 53, 47, 38 or 32 points between their champion and 10th-place team, as the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 saw in 2012-13.
And that's OK. It's pretty much the expectation at this point on both sides.
MLS may not have a Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich to blow away the rest of the field, but parity is not the dirty word some would have you believe.
In 2013, it's yielded a playoff race in which 16 teams are still fighting for 10 spots and the Supporters' Shield could yet end up in a handful of trophy cases. It's yielded hope. It's yielded drama.
It just hasn't yielded dominance. Then again, perhaps dominance is overrated.