"I dwell in possibility." – Emily Dickinson


This is MLS, and thus just about anything is possible. For 24 teams, there is a road to any possibility – including, perhaps, hoisting the Supporters' Shield in mid-October.


The Shield is, by my reckoning, the single best domestic trophy to win in MLS. It signifies not only excellence, but week-to-week consistency of the sort that sends fans home happy and ready to spread the word of your deeds to their friends, family and adult league teammates. The Shield signifies a roster that is both deep and balanced, and a way of approaching games that is as applicable in the last days of winter as it is in the dog days of summer.


So let's dive in and swim our way through a sea of possibilities, from Atlanta to Vancouver, and at all stops in between:


Atlanta United can win the Shield because...


The total value of their roster, by Transfermarkt's reckoning, isn't just the highest in the league: 

Doyle: Why every team can win the Supporters' Shield in 2019 -

Granted, Transfermarkt's a blunt instrument that habitually undervalues domestic players here, but the outward gap between what the Five Stripes are rated at and everyone else is a freaking chasm. Arthur Blank has opened up his wallet to pay the largest transfer fee in league history two winters in a row, and hasn't exactly skimped on any other part of the club.


Other than PSG in France, no team is worth so much more than their next-closest competitors. Given that built-in advantage, you could say that this year should be considered a failure if Atlanta aren't historically dominant.


Atlanta won't win the Shield because...

Did you see them in Costa Rica? Their wingbacks were pinned so deep they had no early width; the deep-central midfield was detached from the advanced central midfield; and the advanced central midfield was detached from the striker. They weren't just "rusty," they were awful individually and tactically.


Oh, and also because those two record transfers (Ezequiel Barco in 2018 and Pity Martinez in 2019) combined may not add as much as their record outgoing transfer (Miguel Almiron).


Chicago Fire can win the Shield because...


Let's say that they stay snug in that 4-3-3 all year, and that their starting front six – Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Djordje Mihailovic in midfield, with Aleksandar Katai, Nemanja Nikolic and Przemyslaw Frankowski up top – all put in 2,500 minutes or so. Let's say they don't suffer any injuries, and let's say that head coach Veljko Paunovic rotates the team in a coherent way rather than tinkering from week to week.


That's a team that would get its shine on. That's a team that has a path to 70+ goals while holding 60 percent (or better) possession. And if you're putting up numbers like that, you're breaking 60 points. And if you're doing that, you're in the Shield race.


Chicago won't win the Shield because...

The truth is that even if they score 70+ goals the defense probably isn't good enough to keep them in the Shield race. If that happens, then Schweinsteiger moves to the backline and the path to 70+ goals disappears.


FC Cincinnati can win the Shield because...


Maybe Frankie Amaya is secretly prime Claudio Reyna? And Kektua Manneh finally gets healthy and back on the track to stardom he seemed to be on before that injury against Portland in the 2015 playoffs? Even then there are questions if those two would pass the technical staff's "Must Be This Tall to Play" filter.


I don't know. I'm having trouble coming up with this particular fantasy.


FC Cincinnati won't win the Shield because...

Their roster isn't anywhere close to good enough. Forty points should be the goal (and even that might be a stretch).


Colorado Rapids can win the Shield because...


Should I just use that same GIF again? No? Ok.


Well, it wasn't all that long ago that Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara were two of the three best players in the league, and Kellyn Acosta was the highest-rated young midfielder in the league, and Axel Sjoberg was a Best XI center back, and Diego Rubio was (still is) a Chilean international, and Keegan Rosenberry's on the fringes of the US men's national team, and...


Obviously they're not going to win it, and I think a playoff spot is a real stretch. But this team's got more talent than any group in recent memory (including the 2016 team that made a Shield push that lasted into Week 34), and "The Rapids Way" isn't just a punchline anymore – they spent the offseason acquiring and integrating fun, technical players and then played fun, technical soccer during the preseason.


They'll be a sneaky fun team to watch in 2019.


Colorado won't win the Shield because...

There are lots of reasons. Total talent is one, and a certain amount of iffiness at the back and in goal is another, and the fact that their two best players (Feilhaber and Kamara) are each a few years past their peak is another. The apparent plan to start Nico Mezquida as the No. 10 – he's got four assists in five years – is a pretty big warning sign as well.


I could see a world in which they get 50 points, though. And if you play MLS Fantasy, Rubio seems a really good "buy low" option.


Columbus Crew SC can win the Shield because...


By both the eye test and the underlying numbers, Columbus were one average goalscoring winger away from being Shield contenders last season. Now meet the new and rejuvenated Pedro Santos:

The Crew's expected goal differential per game of +0.53 was better than three of the past five Shield winners. They moved the ball like a well-oiled machine, wore teams down (they were among the league's best over the final 10 minutes of games), and repeatedly carved out high-leverage chances.


Gyasi Zardes finished his share of them. Nobody else did.


If Zardes keeps doing what he did, and the defense keeps doing what it did, and Santos, Justin Meram, Robinho and Niko Hansen combine for 20ish goals, this team tops 60 points and goes trophy hunting.


Columbus won't win the Shield because...

Too much turnover between the arrival of a new head coach, a new left back, and (midseason) a new goalkeeper. The system changes just enough so that Gyasi's no longer effective, and Pipa Higuain gets old. It all falls apart and they miss the playoffs.


FC Dallas win the Shield because...


New coach, new system, new center forward, and some familiar faces who play like they've gotten a new lease on life.


In short: They win the Shield because they start looking, acting and playing like the 2015 New York Red Bulls. They have a lot of that team's hallmarks – including a commitment to building with Homegrown talent, and a young, hungry coach who seems to want his team to press like hell. Other than the Red Bulls themselves, nobody is better suited for that kind of approach.


Underlying all this is the theory that the gap between "good MLS striker" and "goal machine" is primarily "fit" and "opportunity." I BELIEVE IN YOU DOM BADJI!!!!


Dallas won't win the Shield because...

Finishing is what's stood between Dallas and several trophies this decade. There's probably better than a coin flip chance the same will be true again in 2019.


D.C. United will win the Shield because...


Take the magic created by Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta last year. Multiply it by a Lucas Rodriguez (who's supposed to be better than Yamil Asad, though I haven't seen it), and then by a hungry-to-be-first-choice-for-the-USMNT Paul Arriola. Mix in an overlapping right back from Boca Juniors, and a defensive spine that's intact from Day 1 rather than August 1.


Even if all of the above only happens to like 70 percent efficiency, this still looks like a team that flirts with – and perhaps blows through – the 60-point mark. They have talent everywhere, and depth almost everywhere.


D.C. won't win the Shield because...

Almost everywhere. Wazza pops a hammy and their Shield hopes go up in smoke.


Houston Dynamo will win the Shield because...


When Juan David Cabezas was healthy last year, they looked the part of a top 10 team (and were that in 2017). Now he's back and healthy, and they added another midfield centerpiece in Matias Vera, and they reinforced the backline at a couple of spots.


Or let's put it another way: Last year, if games were only 80 minutes, Houston would've hosted a playoff game. They just had too many "if anything can go wrong, it will" moments at the back, thanks largely to injuries. It stands to reason they won't miss as many key parts in 2019.


Use that as the foundation, then add in linear improvement from that four-headed monster of an attack. There is a reality where Mauro Mantoas bangs in 30 goals and Alberth Elis goes 15g/15a. We saw that group in snippets – opening day against Atlanta, and the U.S. Open Cup final against Philly.


String it together 30 times and you've got another piece of silverware.


Houston won't win the Shield because...

You can win the USOC or MLS Cup with 15 players. You need about 25 to win the Shield, and Houston don't have anything near that kind of depth.


LAFC will win the Shield because...


I'm actually picking them to win the Shield, and a lot of it is based upon what they showed last year: An explosive, multi-faceted attack with match-winners liberally interspersed. One guy (Carlos Vela) might win the MVP and another (Christian Ramirez) might win the Golden Boot presented by Audi and another (Diego Rossi) might be the next eight-figure transfer out of MLS and another (Lee Nguyen) might be the assist king and on and on and on.


That's all the obvious stuff. Here's another bit that I think has been underappreciated: LAFC made most of their 2019 moves throughout 2018. Guys like Ramirez and Nguyen, Eduard Atuesta, Adama Diomande and Andre Horta all arrived last spring or summer, which means 1) they were easing their way through a settling-in period, and 2) they're acclimated now. They are a unit who've played together a bunch, and they're ready to go from the gun this year.


LAFC won't win the Shield because...

Even with all their moves, they are just too leaky compared to the likes of RBNY, Sporting KC or Seattle. LAFC have a Defender of the Year candidate in Walker Zimmerman, but their fullbacks are aging, their other CB is an open question, and goalkeeper Tyler Miller was gaffe-prone in his first year as a starter.


There's a possibility this team is just too damn soft to take home 65 points, which is probably what they'd need.


LA Galaxy will win the Shield because...

"I heard the crowd saying, 'We want Zlatan, we want Zlatan.' So I gave them Zlatan."


Let's say he gives the crowd Zlatan 34 times this year, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto coaxes a B- year out of the defense. Good enough by me.


LA Galaxy won't win the Shield because...

B- defense in the same  conference as LAFC, Sporting, Portland, Seattle and Houston? You're shipping 60 goals again.


Schelotto has a heavy lift to make this a well-rounded team. Going from outside the playoffs to a Shield is too much.


Minnesota United will win the Shield because...


All that stuff Darwin Quintero did last July? He'll do it all year, and with Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay healthy, and one of the four center forwards on the roster popping, that'll make for one of the best attacks in the league.


Meanwhile, Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso will have "should've paid us" seasons on the backline and at d-mid, respectively, just about cutting the Loons' goals against in half. Add in a midfield and fullback approach that uses the ball to control games, and Adrian Heath's three-year plan comes to fruition with a totally unexpected bit of silverware.


Minnesota won't win the Shield because...

Other than Opara having a monster season, I just don't think much of the other stuff is plausible. This side should absolutely be in the mix for the final playoff spot, though.


Montreal Impact will win the Shield because...


They went 11-6-4 over the final five months of last season, taking 37 points from 21 games. Pro-rate that to a 34-game season, and you're at 60 points. The pieces are there, and a five-month stretch is not a fluke. That's an illustrative sample size.


What did they do so well? It started with the overall approach, which dispensed with the early season's frills and went straight-up absorb-and-counter out of a 4-3-3. Remi Garde had all his guys behind the ball and determined that the best way to hide their defensive frailties wasn't by limiting shot attempts, but by limiting shot quality.


Obviously it worked. I'd say just as obvious is that they should take the same approach from the start in 2019. Don't go out there and try to press like the Red Bulls, or to possess like LAFC. Just pull 'em forward, then hit 'em on the run.


Montreal won't win the Shield because...

A 60-point season probably isn't good enough, and with Ignacio Piatti a year older and Alejandro Silva and Rod Fanni gone, they're neither as solid at the back nor as dangerous on the run. "Solid playoff team" and "dangerous postseason darkhorse" just turns out to be their ceiling.


New England Revolution will win the Shield because...


Their mentality is so strong it can cut through titanium! For two months last season, they worked and pressed and ran their way to the top of the table. If they are going to stay there this season, new signing Carles Gil better be Iniesta in disguise. 


New England won't win the Shield because...

Literally every spot in the XI is a big question mark, save for Cristian Penilla. This feels a lot like a team that'll make a run at the Wooden Spoon, not the Supporters' Shield.


New York City FC will win the Shield because...


Just based upon pure 1-thru-30 talent on the roster, this team's probably top five in the league? Maybe top three, even? Add in a significant homefield advantage because of the cozy confines at Yankee Stadium, and you have a recipe to compete at the very top of the league.


Which, by the by, is exactly what they did from the start of 2016 through to about mid-August of 2018. That's two-and-a-half years as an elite team in MLS, and a huge chunk of the team that did it is still in the Bronx and still in their prime.


All of that is significant, as is the offseason addition of attacker Alexandru Mitrita, who commanded one of the largest non-Atlanta United transfer fee's in league history. Let's say the other pieces stay in place, and produce at the level they produced at under Patrick Vieira, and Mitrita produces at a level commensurate with his price tag.


That's a team that competes for titles.


NYCFC won't win the Shield because...

"The level they produced at under Patrick Vieira" is, uh, pretty different than the level they produced at under Dome Torrent. And for all their talent, as of this writing they don't have a single true forward on the lineup. Let's be charitable and call that "unorthodox."


Plus the two guys they lost this winter (David Villa and Yangel Herrera) were their two most indispensable players. Gonna be damn near impossible to make up for that.


New York Red Bulls will win the Shield because...


It's just what they do. The Red Bulls have a tactical system and a mental approach – 1-thru-30 on the roster are expected always be engaged, because any/all of them could see the field at any point – that keeps the team fresh and sharp throughout the regular season. That's how you get three Shields in six years under three different coaches, and that's how you set the single-season points record without any massive transfer spends.


This team's a well-oiled machine. Matt Miazga was the best young defender in the league? Get that paper. Dax McCarty was the league's best d-mid in 2016? Ship him out. Sacha Kljestan had the second-highest three-year assist total in league history? Trade him.


At some point it becomes stupid to bet against them.


New York won't win the Shield because...

Maybe Tyler Adams is the one who's irreplaceable, and maybe it comes during a season in which Bradley Wright-Phillips finally starts losing a few hands to Father Time? BWP definitely looked worn out down the stretch and into the playoffs last season, so it's not unreasonable to expect a bit more slippage – and maybe some squad rotation because of it.


That said, I'd be shocked if this team wasn't in the hunt right to the very end. Nobody in MLS is better at replacing key pieces.


Orlando City will win the Shield because...


Kljestan and Dom Dwyer both have something to prove. So does Josue Colman, who was good in preseason. And Nani comes in to provide the attack a turbo-boost – they suddenly become a two-goals-per-game type of team, hitting from weird angles thanks to the midfield's veteran savvy and passing vision. None of it looks right. It's all unorthodox. But it works!


The defense and defensive midfield, meanwhile, finally play up to their pedigrees. Instead of coughing up 74 goals, they give up 47. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!!!


Orlando City won't win the Shield because...

Most of the above is unlikely to happen, and even if it does they're probably short on in-their-prime talent to drive the club forward in crunch games. Dwyer's virtually the only centerpiece player on this roster who's in his prime, and while he's a good, solid MLS striker, he's not a Best XI-caliber alpha of the type most recent Shield winners have had.


Beyond that... while the defense should be better, they're not going to be 25 goals better without sacrificing all pretenses at generating a consistent attack.


This is a team that should hope for a playoff spot. Can't see it being more than that.


Philadelphia Union will win the Shield because...


Pretty much all that stuff I said about FC Dallas about a dozen blurbs ago? Apply it here to the Union. They look like a team that was made to press, given their backline youth and speed, and the types of mobile forwards they have. On top of it, they've added Mexican playmaker Marco Fabian to the mix:



Imagine the way Sporting blitzed the league in 2011, or the Red Bulls in 2015. Both teams sprung the press on unaware opponents, and both were in the Shield race those years (the Red Bulls won it).


Now imagine Philly doing that ~AND~ having a Best XI-caliber No. 10 as part of the deal. How many points does that team collect?


Philadelphia won't win the Shield because...

I'd actually like their chances better if they hadn't switched their system this offseason. I thought you could've built on last year's 50-point haul via chemistry, cohesion, and natural progression from some of the kids, as well as a few key signings. At the start of the year, at the very least, I expect them to be dislocated, and if that's the case, their Shield race will be run before they're out of the blocks.


Beyond that... a player of Fabian's caliber was only available to them because he's been hurt most of the past two years. They should plan to manage his minutes, and if you're doing that with your best player you're not going to win a Shield.


Portland Timbers will win the Shield because...


Because this is probably it, man. This is the very, very tail-end of Diego Chara and Diego Valeri's respective primes, and that should have the whole team playing with desperation and fear. Chara and Valeri are each among the top five at their respective positions – the two most important positions on the field – in MLS history, and one trophy from an era featuring both of them just is not enough. If Portland are even within smelling distance of the Shield, they have to empty the sink trying to get that silverware.


The good news is that they'll apparently have some powder dry for the summer transfer window, and could conceivably ape their northern neighbors in putting together a gigantic second-half surge via a new DP and a home-heavy final 20 games.


That means two things: 1) They have to collect just enough points through their 12-game, season-opening odyssey, and 2) Jeremy Ebobisse has to make it so that they don't need to spend that DP slot on a center forward. He's got a chance to prove he's worth the spot long-term, and if he does so, that means the Timbers braintrust can aim to add reinforcements elsewhere.


Portland won't win the Shield because...

Forget the attack, which I think will be pretty good-to-excellent regardless: The defense has been very, very questionable so far in preseason, and they spent all of the 2018 postseason dancing on a knife's edge.


They no longer have Liam Ridgewell to solidify the center of that defense (at least at home), and even on paper you still kind of have to talk yourself into this Timbers backline being ok.


It's a legit worry.


Real Salt Lake will win the Shield because...


Mike Petke's done it before, for one. They're two-deep at pretty much every spot with legit talent, for another – and most of said talent is young, mobile, and hungry for minutes. There should be a ton of internal competition for playing time, and the running theory is that's a damn good way to create an environment where nobody slacks.


If nobody slacks – if everybody's playing for their job every single game out there – you have a team that'll find a way to win. Or so the theory goes.


Real Salt Lake won't win the Shield because...

During the preseason games of theirs that I watched, I often had no idea what they were doing.


San Jose Earthquakes will win the Shield because...


That Chivas team had no business winning CCL last year. They were played off the field by RBNY in the semis, and were inferior to Toronto in the final.


And yet there they were at the end of the thing, holding up a trophy. Matias Almeyda's teams did that a lot down in Guadalajara.


Almeyda won five trophies in three years with Chivas, which makes him the most successful coach at that club in half a century, and one of the most successful in North America. Bet against him at your peril.


San Jose won't win the Shield because...

Everybody's seen those Chivas tapes, yeah? Here's the secret: They man-mark all over the field. And if you're prepared for it, you can pull them apart.


Liga MX teams figured it out after a year, which is why his teams were so up-and-down in league play. That style is much more successful in tournament play – hence his CCL win, his two Copa MX wins, and his SuperCopa.


You should buy a little stock in "San Jose win the U.S. Open Cup" for what it's worth. Hard pass on the Shield.


Seattle Sounders will win the Shield because...


We can all look at this roster, and their recent accomplishments, and accept that this is a pretty good team, yeah? Their last half-season – the second half of 2018 – was literally the best season of soccer in terms of PPG in MLS history. They can take the first two months of 2019 off and still compete for the Shield if they intend to play like that.


Given that Victor Rodriguez is finally healthy and settled, and Jordan Morris is looking good to go, and Raul Ruidiaz is here from the start, there's every chance this group puts up some NUMBERS in 2019.


And then on top of all that, they have a DP slot they can use in the summer window if they feel the itch. I know Garth Lagerwey is saying that's not in the cards, but I think that's at least a little bit of a misdirect.


Seattle won't win the Shield because...

Man, based upon their winless preseason they sure do look intent upon taking the first two months off. The slow start cost them the Shield last year, and could very well again in 2019.


On top of that... replacing Ozzie Alonso is not an ordinary lift. He's literally the greatest d-mid in MLS history, and the greatest Sounder in club history. I get why they let him walk – and to their credit, the fans seem to get it as well – but there sure are a lot of unknown unknowns at play here.


Sporting KC will win the Shield because...


  • Depth pretty much everywhere
  • A new midfield match-winner in Kelyn Rowe
  • A unique system that makes them hard to prep for
  • Enough TAM to open multiple DP slots this summer if they get the itch
  • It's the one domestic trophy they haven't won in the 2010s, and would be an appropriate way to cap the decade


Sporting won't win the Shield because...

Krisztian Nemeth had a nice 2019 debut vs. Toluca, and Sporting's system creates great chances for the center forward. But in a league of Zlatan Ibrahimovics and Josef Martinezes and Carlos Velas, do you trust the team starting Nemeth up top – with Erik Hurtado in reserve – to win the Shield?


Neither do I. Nemeth has had one double-digit goal season since 2007, and it came back in 2015 from the wing.


I'll add in that the CCL usually takes a big toll on teams. RBNY bucked that trend last year, but they're still mostly the exception to the rule.


All that said: Nobody should be surprised if Sporting are there on the last day, holding up a plate and painting the wall.


Toronto FC will win the Shield because...


They look like they're about to drop $10 million on a DP attacking midfielder and then go after a pair of TAM wingers. Let's pretend they hit on all three signings, and Jozy Altidore stays healthy, and Jonathan Osorio has another 2018-style season in him, and Michael Bradley turns back the clock at d-mid. 


On top of that, Drew Moor would have to come back for 2,500 good minutes to settle the defense, and everybody would have to stay mostly healthy and – big after last year – mistake-free.


It's a lot to ask given how they've played for the past 12 months.


Toronto won't win the Shield because...

They managed only 36 points last year.


Did you see them against Independiente last week? Thirty-six points looks like a stretch for 2019.


Vancouver Whitecaps will win the Shield because...

Look, weird stuff happens in this league. Marc Dos Santos is a good coach who's won at every level, has coached under guys (Peter Vermes, Bob Bradley) who've won a ton, and whose team play good soccer. They've gone off the grid for some signings, and shopped for deals on others. Nobody knows how it'll work out, but nobody thought for a second that the Rapids would take 58 points three years ago.


It's MLS and this could work!


Vancouver won't win the Shield because...

I do think this'll be the most fun to watch 'Caps team of their MLS tenure, but even if everything clicks they just don't have enough top-end talent to be an elite team. And while that Rapids team was ruthlessly pragmatic, I just don't think Dos Santos has it in his DNA to drop 11 men behind the ball and just play for results.


Still... I don't think it's possible for this team to go much past 50 points. That's pretty good, but it's not a Shield-winning season.