As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.
2 – Supporter’s Shields in a row won in last six years (LA, Crew, D.C.)
Ours is the beautiful game.
Ours is the one that's not just movements drawn up on a whiteboard. It's not just tactics, not just skill, not just athleticism. It's not even individual brilliance.
It's 11 players thinking, acting, moving as one. It's that moment when sport becomes music, when repetition becomes artistry, when art becomes victory.
And it doesn't happen if you're constantly looking for the next big name to add to the lineup.
Over the last six years, the truest thing in MLS has been that the best teams are not built overnight. No matter who you bring in, no matter how wholesale your roster changes are, you will not be the best team — specifically, the best regular-season team — if you do not create a level of cohesion, trust and familiarity within the roster. And the surest way to do that is to keep your squad together.
In 2006, D.C. United won the Supporters' Shield with a squad that had mostly been together since 2004. In 2007 they brought in two significant players in Luciano Emilio and Fred — pieces that fit into the overall scheme of what Peter Nowak had built and Tommy Soehn maintained — and took their second.
In 2008, after missing the playoffs two years in a row, the Columbus Crew kept faith, kept the team together, and added a couple of pieces. They broke away from the pack by June, and had the franchise's second Shield wrapped up by mid-August. In 2009, the gang stayed together even though Sigi Schmid left town. But no matter — they just did it all over again.
Then there's the Galaxy. In 2009, they finished second in the standings. Bruce Arena only tinkered around the edges, bringing in Juninho and Michael Stephens, both of whom made significant contributions.
Even more important, though, was the extra year of confidence, experience and trust LA had whenever they stepped on the field in 2010. They earned a Shield to show for it. In 2011, despite losing Edson Buddle, they were even better, and they added another Shield to the trophy case.
If you're waiting for your club's big mid-season addition, you're probably already out of the hunt. (Yes, Robbie Keane was big, but LA were winning the Shield with or without him last year.)
If, on the other hand, you're looking at a team that's returned nine of 11 starters, a midfield that plays like they have precognition, and defenders that always cover for each other, then there's a decent chance you're looking at a team with eyes on the Supporters' Shield.
It's why Jason Kreis, Garth Lagerwey & Co. kept RSL together for one more year. It's why Houston and Sporting look so damn good in the East. And it's why LA and Seattle are favorites.
Good things come in twos. Keep your team together, and you may have a pair of Shields to show for it.