Who will win the MLS Supporters’ Shield race? Making the case for each contender
Sporting Kansas City
Remaining schedule: 10/18 vs. D.C. United, 10/26 at Philadelphia Union
Why they will win the Shield: Defense and depth.
Kansas City has the top defense in the entire league, giving up less than one goal per game on average and only two in its last five matches — a period where it played long stretches without U.S. national team center back Matt Besler. Luckily for Sporting KC, the team has enough depth to deal with absences, injures and fatigue with players like Ike Opara becoming key role players. Kansas City will need every bit of that depth. In between its final two MLS games, it must play a CONCACAF Champions League match against Honduras’ CD Olimpia at Sporting Park.
Why they won’t: Goals.
For as good as Kansas City’s defensive record is, this team has been struggling to score. Kansas City has netted the second-least number of goals (44) among the top six, and it’ll be without Kei Kamara — a key contributor to that total who was sold to Middlesbrough of the English Championship at the start of September. C.J. Sapong has attempted to fill Kamara’s void, but the results have been mixed, and top scorer Claudio Bieler has been an unused sub in five of Kansas City’s last seven games as he’s struggled with a groin injury.
Remaining MLS schedule: 10/20 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 10/27 at Seattle Sounders
Why they will win the Shield: Experience.
The Galaxy captured the Shield two of the past three seasons, so Bruce Arena and Co. know how to end the season on top. Plus, though injures could limit time on the field and effectiveness for Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez, striker Robbie Keane is still healthy and raring to go. In a cameo appearance in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over Montreal Impact on Wednesday, Keane brought new life to a Galaxy team filled with youngsters. Not bad, considering he had just played a World Cup qualifier halfway around the world a mere 24 hours earlier.
Why they won’t: Health.
In Donovan and Gonzalez, the Galaxy have two of their leaders hobbled with injures. Donovan has been dealing with an ankle issue for the past month and has only played sparingly for the Galaxy and the U.S. national team in the interim. The injury reportedly took a turn for the worse in the U.S.’s draw with Jamaica on Friday, and Donovan sat out the Galaxy’s win over the Impact. Gonzalez remains hobbled by a hip injury that has been bothering the big defender all year — he also sat out the Montreal game. Arena always manages to get the best out of the players at his disposal, but storming back to capture the Shield with limited contributions from Gonzalez and Donovan would rank among his most impressive coaching feats.
Remaining MLS schedule: 10/19 at FC Dallas, 10/27 vs. LA Galaxy
Why they will win the Shield: They have the final word.
There is of course no telling how the last two matches will go for any of these teams. The good news for the Sounders is that they won’t have to rely on anybody except themselves. The Sounders’ last game of the season is also the last regular season game in the entire league, meaning they’ll know exactly what they need to do going into it. Moreover, it’s in front a home crowd that will surely be as raucous as ever if the Sounders are still in the hunt for the Shield at that point. The fact that the game is against fellow Shield hunters Los Angeles could increase the stakes mightily.
Why they won’t: Form.
There’s no nice way to put it: Seattle has been absolutely dreadful the past three games. After steamrolling through August and September with an 8-1-2 record, things got Halloween scary for Seattle in October. A 5-1 away loss to Colorado was followed by a 4-1 rout at home at the hands of the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps. The kicker came last weekend in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers that saw midfield destroyer Osvaldo Alonso sent off, meaning he will be out for the Sounders’ next match against FC Dallas. This team is as talented as any in MLS, but they seem to be coming apart at the seams at exactly the wrong time — not a good recipe for much of anything, let alone the Supporters Shield.
Also in the hunt (mathematically speaking):
Remaining MLS schedule: 10/19 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 10/27 at Vancouver Whitecaps
Remaining MLS schedule: 10/20 vs. New York Red Bulls, 10/27 at D.C. United
San Jose Earthquakes
Remaining MLS schedule: 10/20 at LA Galaxy, 10/26 vs. FC Dallas