MLS Cup or Supporters' Shield? FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan weighs in 

Pat Noonan CIN

Does MLS Cup or the Supporters’ Shield carry more weight? Everyone has their opinion, including FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan.

The Orange & Blue won the Shield on Saturday, as a 3-2 victory at Toronto FC ensured they’ll end 2023 with the most regular-season points. So far, they've earned 65 points via a 19W-4L-8D record.

And while Noonan would love to lift MLS Cup on Dec. 9 as well, he’s developed an evolved perspective on why the Shield – at least in his eyes – is so important.

“It's a big achievement and maybe that conversation is different years back. But for me, it’s the consistency of a team over the course of a season,” Noonan, who took over FCC in 2022, said Monday at training.

“For me now, even my own opinion of this has changed. I think [the Shield] has now surpassed MLS Cup in terms of relevance. That’s not to take away the desire for our team to hold the MLS Cup trophy. But for that group to be the top team over the course of the season, I think it’s very meaningful. The hope is we can find a way to achieve both, but that’s how I feel about the Supporters’ Shield.”

Veteran center back Nick Hagglund largely agreed with his manager, noting the contrast between MLS’s playoff system and how most professional soccer leagues crown their annual champion.

“Obviously around the world, this is the trophy to win. But in MLS it’s MLS Cup,” said Hagglund, also a 2017 Shield winner at Toronto FC.

“I think everyone wants this now because the home-field advantage [in playoffs] is huge and being able to go through eight months of the year with mostly winning soccer and giving that to your fans and to your team and grow in confidence that way, that’s just an awesome way to have a year.”

At the most basic level, the Supporters’ Shield rewards regular-season excellence from MLS is Back weekend to Decision Day – this year, an eight-month journey spanning from Feb. 25 to Oct. 21. Conversely, MLS Cup requires navigating several win-or-go-home scenarios where the pressure ramps up – a true knockout tournament. Plus, to Noonan and Hagglund’s point, the grind of the regular season tests longevity, consistency, squad depth, juggling multiple competitions and more.

As the Cup vs. Shield debate rages on, Cincy have a new challenge ahead of them: chasing the single-season points record the New England Revolution (73) set in 2021. To accomplish that, Noonan’s group must win their final three regular-season games – starting with Wednesday’s home test vs. the New York Red Bulls (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) that includes a postgame Shield ceremony with fans.

“That wasn’t a goal of ours when the season began, but we have three games left and if that’s motivation for guys to be at the top in terms of the history of our league and most points, use that as motivation if you’d like,” Noonan said.

“We’ll rotate some players and make sure we get through this stretch in a healthy way. On top of the rotation, there are just guys that deserve a start and some minutes.”

As Cincy strike a business-like approach, there was time for celebrations over the weekend. In the early-morning hours Sunday, upon return from Toronto, the team was greeted at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport by adoring supporters. Dancing and celebrations followed.

For a club that spent their first three MLS seasons (2019-21) finishing last in the league, they’re enjoying every second of this glow-up.

“On top of the fan support, which we were so appreciative of, we were able to see some of our families as well, which I thought was a nice, little surprise,” said Noonan. “It was a good ending to a great moment for the club.”