Inside Toronto FC’s training centre, one wall of the two-storey entrance hall is covered with an array of team photos.
Another has cubbyholes cut into it to showcase the team’s trophies.
Hoisting hardware is what the Major League Soccer team is all about. So, head coach Greg Vanney and captain Michael Bradley were not impressed by the weekend news that the Supporters’ Shield, awarded annually to the team that finishes with the best regular-season record, won’t be handed out this year because of the campaign’s unusual circumstances due to the pandemic.
Vanney, whose team leads the standings at 12-2-5 with four regular-season games to play, called the decision disappointing and “kind of disgraceful.”
“Every single player in this league plays for that.” he said after Sunday night’s 1-0 win over Atlanta in East Hartford, Conn. “Because if you’re a traditional soccer person, then that’s the trophy you always want to win because it shows the best team that has endured over any circumstances.
If we win this thing, we’re going to lift a trophy. … We’re going to celebrate … they can’t take that away from us.— Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney
“Pick your circumstances. This year it’s COVID. It’s injuries, it’s incredible difficult schedules … The legacy of a club, the legacy of a player and the legacy of teams and fans is how many trophies you lift. And that’s why you do this.”
Added Bradley: “It seems ridiculous. There’s no sugar-coating that. It seems crazy that three weeks from the end of the season, that all of a sudden you can just decide that one of the three trophies that teams are fighting for throughout a season is no longer in play.”
“But having said that, we’re not going to let anything throw us off.”
Awarded handed out since 1998
Vanney has a Plan B, however.
“If we win this thing, we’re going to lift a trophy,” he said. “I told the guys we would go get a manhole cover and we’d spray-paint it silver and gold and we’re going to lift that damn thing if we have to lift it with all of us together. But we’re going to lift something at the end of this if we win it. And we’re going to celebrate. They can’t take that away from us.”
The Shield was created by club supporters in the early years of the league and has been handed out since 1998 (the 1996 and 1997 teams were later inscribed into the trophy).
The decision not to award it in this pandemic-rejigged season was made by the Supporters’ Shield Foundation, the group appointed by the Independent Supporters Council to oversee the awarding of the trophy every year.
“This is not an easy decision to make. With the inability for supporters to be in attendance and fill their stadiums with passion, however, we feel as though the current climate goes against the spirit of the Shield,” the foundation said in a statement.
In a separate statement, the Independent Supporters Council said the decision was that of the foundation. But it noted that the imbalance of the pandemic-rejigged schedule and the absence of fans in the stands “led to the decision that no Shield would accurately reflect the best performance over the course of the season.”
“As a result, the foundation opted not to award a Shield to any team.”
1st-place team receives $150K US bonus
Major League Soccer, while calling the 2020 campaign “unprecedented,” said the team finishing first in the standings will still be rewarded.
“As in previous seasons, this team will be the top seed in the Audi MLS Cup playoffs, earn a berth in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League and receive the [$150,000 US] bonus that goes to the club that finishes first overall in the regular-season standings,” the league said in a statement.
“Most of all, the millions of people who follow and support our league, teams and players will always remember the club that finished as 2020 MLS regular-season leader.”
The CONCACAF Champions League berth linked to finishing first in the standings only goes to an American team. Canadian clubs qualify via the Canadian Championship, which this year will see Toronto FC face Hamilton’s Forge FC of the CPL in a revamped format.
D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy have won the Shield four times. The Columbus Crew SC (3), New York Red Bulls (3) and the San Jose Earthquakes (2) have also won it multiple times.
The league has celebrated the double seven times in its history — the same club winning both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Toronto did it in 2017, celebrating a treble by also winning the Canadian Championship.
By Sunday night, MLS had removed the Supporters’ Shield name from the overall standings on its website.