The Value of the Shield

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In case anyone forgot, the Seattle Sounders just won the Supporters’ Shield. I’ve been salivating at the thought of the Shield for months. Back on July 13, shortly after decimating Portland 2-nil, I interviewed Clint Dempsey and asked if anyone in the Seattle locker room was talking Supporters’ Shield. He looked at me like I was crazy and said “No. Trophies aren’t earned by talking about them.” I’ve wanted the Shield for a long time, but now that it’s here… it rings somewhat hollow.

As a sports fan, and a diehard, I have only one vicarious championship to my resume, the 2008 World Series. That was a great autumn. I spoke to uncles and cousins, ones I rarely call, and we talked about them Fightin’ Phils. Then the Phillies won 97 games in 2010 and 102 in 2011, back-to-back table topping seasons. But it didn’t mean squat. MLB fans look back at those Phillies teams as failures for folding in the playoffs, despite 162 games of consistent dominance. You Mariners fans know what it’s like.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy. I am impressed. The Shield is an incredible accomplishment, especially for a Western Conference team. But who really fetes and respects New York for winning it last year or San Jose for bossing the league two years ago. Americans respect the plucky and clutch teams that win when the pressure’s on, not steady, consistent winners. As an American sports fan, the Shield doesn’t resonate as much as winning the playoffs. It’s how we’re conditioned. I know table-topping is the traditional crowning achievement in international soccer, but Obama didn’t invite the New Red Bulls to the White House (do they do that in other countries? Did David Cameron host Man City? Or is it just our distinctly American obsession of marrying sports to politics?). Even the Sounders players celebrated the US Open Cup much more. After last weekend’s game, everyone in Rave Green was all business.

That doesn’t mean the Shield means nothing. Like winning the Preakness, it is a necessary ingredient to a greater accomplishment. We’re already sitting on history: a Shield and Open Cup double. But there’s more. To further Sigi’s postgame metaphor: the thing is MLS Cup, it is the cake. You don’t got much if you don’t got it. The Shield is lovely icing however. I’d love to look back and say, hell we won the Shield on the way to the Cup. Nothing makes you look more like a G.O.A.T., once-in-a-lifetime team than all those historical footnotes. We have 5 games left and I want the good old-fashioned, ‘Murican championship: MLS cup.

But last weekend the Sounders did win a trophy. And considering how we won it: going toe-to-toe with our nemesis and foil, Los Angeles, makes it even sweeter. It is another trophy for our collection and evidence for the growing case that “The Seattle Sounders are the class of American soccer.” Something was up for grabs and we grabbed it. Hell, that’s what winners do: they take ‘em all.

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