|First awarded 1999||Currently held by FC Dallas (1st shield)|
|Awarded for Major League Soccer team with the best record in the regular season|
Presented by The Supporter's Shield Foundation
Most awards D.C. United and LA Galaxy (four shields each)
The Supporters' Shield is an annual award given to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record, as determined by the MLS points system. The Supporters' Shield has been annually awarded at the MLS Supporters' Summit since 1999, and has been recognized as a major trophy by the league. It echoes the practice of the top European soccer leagues in which the team with the best record is the champion. Since 2006, the Supporters' Shield winner has earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.
- Supporters conceive and fundraise for trophy
- Shield awarding and tiebreakers
- First Shield incentives arrive
- Shield winners
- Performance in CONCACAF competition
D.C. United and LA Galaxy, with four Supporters' Shields each, have won the most shields of any MLS team. FC Dallas are the 2016 holders of the Supporters' Shield.
Supporters conceive and fundraise for trophy
When Major League Soccer had its inaugural season in 1996, the league resembled its contemporary North American leagues. After the regular season, the campaign culminated with the MLS Cup Playoffs, en route to the postseason championship match, the MLS Cup. The club with the best regular season record received nothing more than the top seed in the playoffs.
In 1997, soccer fan Nick Lawrus proposed the notion of a "Supporters' Scudetto", as a result of the Tampa Bay Mutiny earning the best regular season record but failing to win the 1996 MLS Cup final. A committee composed of members of all MLS teams' supporters changed the name to "Supporters's Shield" but, due to disagreements between members of the committee, the proposal failed to come to fruition.
The following year, another group led by soccer enthusiast Sam Pierron tried to revive the idea by giving an award to the regular season champions. Since MLS refused to fund the idea, Pierron began fundraising to purchase a trophy with the help of supporters from various MLS clubs. Fundraising was boosted with the assistance of ESPN's MLS commentator (at the time) Phil Schoen donating for the award. In the end, nearly $3,000 was donated to commission the trophy, which was made by artist Paula Richardson out of sterling silver sheet metal, for $2,200.
The money donated to create and purchase the trophy was not fulfilled until the tail end of the 1999 season, when the second MLS Supporters' Summit was held. D.C. United is the first currently active MLS club to win the Supporters' Shield.
Shield awarding and tiebreakers
Since the 2000 season, the system of awarding points in Major League Soccer is the same as the international standard, three points for a win, one for a draw, and no points for a loss. As of the 2014 season, new rules are in place for breaking ties. In the event of an end-of-season tie in total accumulated points, the following tie-breakers will be used:
- Most wins
- Goal difference (GD)
- Goals for (GF)
- Fewest disciplinary points
- Road goals
- Road goal difference
- Home goals
- Home goal difference
- Coin toss (two teams) or drawing of lots (three or more teams)
These are standard MLS regulations for breaking ties in point totals.
Throughout the early to mid-2000s, the Shield received little praise or recognition from MLS or the general public, as the league awarded the MLS Cup winner and runner-up with spots in continental tournaments.
First Shield incentives arrive
In February 2006, USSF decided that the Supporters' Shield winner and the MLS Cup winner would represent the United States in the CONCACAF Champions League, formerly the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. If the Supporters Shield winner also wins the MLS Cup, the team with the second highest regular season point total qualifies as well. When the Champions Cup became the CONCACAF Champions League, the United States Soccer Federation gave the Supporters' Shield winner and the MLS Cup winner both direct Group stage spots into the tournament.
On six occasions (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2011) the winner of the Supporters' Shield also won the MLS Cup that same year. In 2011, the league announced that the Shield winner's opponent in the MLS Cup quarterfinals would be the lowest-seeded team remaining.
Performance in CONCACAF competition
Before 2006, Shield winners were not necessarily guaranteed a berth into CONCACAF competitions. Most regular season champions to earn berths into CONCACAF competitions typically earned them from earning a berth into the MLS Cup, or earning a berth due to the number of berths allocated to the United States for MLS. Most times, the United States was allocated two berths into the tournament, which went to the MLS Cup champion and runner-up.
Since 2007, the Shield winner replaced the MLS Cup runner-up as the second American representative for the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. In 2008, with the arrival of the newly formatted CONCACAF Champions League, the Shield winner, along with the MLS Cup winner both earned direct byes into the group stage of the Champions League.
A Shield winner has never reached the final of a CONCACAF competition. On three separate occasions, D.C. United has reached the tournament semifinal after winning the Shield, the furthest that any Shield winner has progressed in CONCACAF competition. United also holds the record for the earliest exit in a CONCACAF competition as the Shield winner, being eliminated from Group stage in the 2008–09 edition of the Champions League.