Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Philadelphia or LAFC? Who's got the edge in the Supporters' Shield race

0928 Supporters Shield Matchup

Decision Day is nigh upon us. Playoff places and seeding are at stake over the next 10 days. So is the fifth trophy (Concacaf Champions League, Canadian Championship, US Open Cup, Campeones Cup) of the 2022 season!

Three teams remain alive, technically, though the Supporters’ Shield race is realistically (sorry, CF Montréal) down to two: Los Angeles Football Club and the Philadelphia Union.

Who will win the 2022 Supporters’ Shield?

Let’s set the stage before predicting/guessing who’ll take home their second Shield on Oct. 9 (or perhaps after this weekend depending on the results, more on that in a second).

Both teams have two games remaining. Both teams are on 64 points. The first tiebreaker is wins, which LAFC lead 20 to 18. The second tiebreaker is goal differential, which the Union lead +46 to +28. The third tiebreaker is goals scored, which the Union lead 68 to 64.

LAFC go to Portland on Sunday, then end the season at home against Nashville SC, two likely playoff teams. Philadelphia go to Charlotte Saturday afternoon, then finish things off at home against Toronto. Charlotte are unlikely to make the playoffs, and TFC are already eliminated. The remaining schedule edge goes to the Union, while LAFC hold the all-important first tiebreaker.

That scheduling edge, however, won’t matter much if Philly don’t get a result in Charlotte to put pressure on LAFC. If the Union lose and LAFC win, the Shield will belong to the Black & Gold, as Philly can only match on points but cannot match the first tiebreaker (wins).

If the Union draw in North Carolina and then LAFC win, Jim Curtin and the boys will still be alive but they’ll need to win on Decision Day and hope Nashville hand an L to LAFC in Los Angeles. If the Union win in Charlotte, then the pressure is squarely on LAFC to win on Sunday in Portland to prevent Philly from controlling their own destiny against a dead-in-the-water Toronto FC team.

FiveThirtyEight says that it’s basically a coin flip. According to their model, LAFC have a 50 percent chance to win the Shield. The Union have somewhere between a 49 and 50 percent chance, while Montréal are under one percent to make up the difference.

Here’s what the democratic method tells us about who’ll lift that beautiful piece of supporter-created hardware. I presume CF Montréal folks (or chaos merchants) stuffed the ballot on the Quebecois’ behalf.

The people are betting heavily on the Union, and so am I. They’ve beaten the absolute #$%@ out of non-playoff teams the second half of this season – in addition to wins at Miami, at Orlando, at Red Bulls and home against Orlando – and the schedule makers blessed them with a pair of those in the home stretch.

Here’s the level of non-playoff dominance we’re talking about…

  • 7-0 vs DC
  • 2-1 vs NE
  • 6-0 vs HOU
  • 4-1 vs CHI
  • 6-0 @ DC
  • 6-0 vs COL
  • 4-1 vs ATL

Charlotte are still, on paper, alive and have been above average at home this year, but let’s be honest: not a playoff team. It won’t be easy, but I think the Union will pick up three points there. My guess is LAFC fail to pick up three points in Portland. The Timbers have four wins and a draw in their last five and are fighting for a playoff place/seeding. That means it comes down to Decision Day, and I can’t see the Union wasting an opportunity to lift a trophy at home.

What I am saying is … I’ve officially jinxed Philly. Congrats in advance to LAFC!

Which club would this year’s Shield mean more to?

The Union.

That’s not to say LAFC don’t care. They absolutely do (and still control their own destiny). They just care about MLS Cup more in my opinion. They made that clear by chopping and changing – and not just a little bit – during the summer transfer window. In doing so, they raised their ceiling, but also lowered their potential floor in the short to medium term.

Those moves – Giorgio Chiellini, Gareth Bale, Dénis Bouanga, Sebas Méndez, Cristian Tello IN … Brian Rodriguez, Mamadou Fall OUT – required a settling-in period. They changed the personnel equation for Steve Cherundolo and the players around them. They introduced questions where there had been Shield-leading (and historic) levels of clarity. Seven straight wins in July and August turned into four losses in five and their Shield lead was erased.

Even world-class players have to adapt to new environs!

That was a price worth paying for LAFC. They can still win the Shield, and now the talent gap between themselves and their playoff opponents is even greater. They have a handful of players with the experience and talent to win a one-off game all by themselves. Losing the Shield would be a huge bummer, but the ultimate prize would still be in play, though the possibility of an MLS Cup final away day would be in play should the Union make it through the Eastern Conference bracket.

For the Union, meanwhile, another Shield is further proof that their model, their approach to club building, their players and their leadership isn’t just a sustainable path to success, but improving year over year. They might not spend anywhere near what a team like LAFC does, but they can win the marathon all the same.

For LAFC, the proof of concept – big-name stars, South American starlets and proven MLS vets – is MLS Cup. A Shield would be nice, but it would still be a consolation prize if Nov. 5 ends without the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in tow.