When Major League Soccer was created in the mid-1990s the objective was to create a top-flight league in the United States that would produce teams that could compete regionally, and eventually globally. However, the league insisted it would do so with an American touch.
What this resulted in is a league winner decided not by whoever has the most points at the end of the regular season, like most European leagues, but with the best teams in the league fighting it out through multiple rounds of playoffs.
However, the league couldn’t fully detach itself from the European model. In 1999, three years into the league’s existence, the Supporter’s Shield was created after a campaign by fans got the league’s attention. The Shield is given out at the end of the regular season to the team with the most points, regardless of conference.
The trophy is considered a major trophy in the league, however, teams and their fans would still consider the season a disappointment if they won the Shield but were unable to lift MLS Cup at season’s end. In fact, just 7 Shield winners in the league’s history have also won the MLS Cup. Only 8 Shield winners have even made the MLS Cup Final.
There have been 13 different Supporter’s Shield winners in the league’s history, with the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United tied for the most wins with 4.
Here are their stories.
List of MLS Supporter’s Shield Winners:
1996: Tampa Bay Mutiny – 58 points
The Tampa Bay Mutiny kicked off the inaugural season of Major League Soccer in style. Led by league MVP and Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama and Golden Boot winner Roy Lassiter, the Mutiny paced the league in points and finished 9 points clear of the rest of their competition.
Lassiter scored 33 goals and Valderrama added 4 goals and 11 assists. Unfortunately for the Mutiny, they were unable to turn their regular-season success into postseason glory as they fell to the eventual MLS Cup winners D.C. United in the Conference Finals.
1997: D.C. United – 55 points
The 1997 D.C. United team made history that year by becoming the first MLS club to do a league “double”, by winning the Supporter’s Shield and lifting the MLS Cup at the end of the postseason. Having lifted the Cup the previous season, United became the league’s first dynasty.
D.C. was led in attack by forward Jaime Moreno, who led the league in goals with 16, and midfielder Marco Etcheverry, while U.S. internationals Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos kept things solid at the back. United finished 6 points ahead of Kansas City in the race for the Shield.
1998: Los Angeles Galaxy – 68 points
Making their home in one of America’s most influential sports cities, the Los Angeles Galaxy were expected to be one of the league’s anchor franchises. It took a few seasons, but the Galaxy was finally able to lift some silverware in 1998 with their capture of the Supporter’s Shield.
The Galaxy, led by midfielder Cobi Jones, set records for their high scoring offense but also allowed the second-fewest goals in MLS history. Despite this, the Galaxy were knocked out of the playoffs in the Conference Finals by the eventual league champions, Chicago Fire.
1999: D.C. United – 57 points
D.C. United entered the 1999 season mad. For once in their existence, they hadn’t lifted MLS Cup at the end of the season. With Bruce Arena departing to take over the U.S. National Team, Thomas Rongen was charged with bringing new life and energy to the club. Did he ever.
D.C. finished 3 points ahead of LA for the Supporter’s Shield but 12 points off their nearest rival in the Eastern Conference. Once again, Roy Lassiter was firing in goals, and tied for the league lead with 18. D.C. cruised through the postseason en route to their 3rd MLS Cup in 4 years.
2000: Kansas City Wizards – 57 points
MLS history was made in 2000 when goalkeeper Tony Meola became the first, and to this day only, goalkeeper to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season. Peter Vermes was named Defender of the Year in a team that obviously had a very stout defense.
The Wiz tied with Chicago for the most points in the league but were awarded the Shield because their goal difference was 2 goals higher than the Fire’s. They completed the league double after defeating the Fire 1-0 in the MLS Cup Final.
2001: Miami Fusion – 53 points
2001 would be the last season the Fusion would play before the team folded. What a swansong it would be as they won their first and only Supporter’s Shield, finishing 5 points ahead of the LA Galaxy.
Unfortunately, there would be no ultimate glory at the end of the season, as the Fusion were knocked out in the semi-finals. However, the league will always remember Alex Pineda Chacon and Diego Serna topping the goal charts for the league as they tried to keep their franchise afloat.
2002: Los Angeles Galaxy – 51 points
After a slow start to the season, head coach Sigi Schmid made crucial changes to the formation and solidified the defense. Those tweaks sent the Galaxy on a run that closed out the season 11-4-1. The Galaxy peaked at the right time, clinching the Supporter’s Shield and eventually MLS Cup.
This was an era blending Galaxy squad mixing legendary veterans like Alexi Lalas and Carlos Ruiz with the new school of Landon Donovan and Ale Moreno. Scoring a Golden Boot winning 24 goals, Ruiz was named the league’s MVP. His overtime extra time (you read that correct) goal in MLS Cup 2002, won the title for the Galaxy.
2003: Chicago Fire – 53 points
The Chicago Fire may have finished the season short of their goal, but the team made history nonetheless. No, they didn’t lift MLS Cup, but the team became the first team in MLS history to win both the Supporter’s Shield and the U.S. Open Cup in the same season.
The Fire were led by forwards Ante Razov and rookie Damani Ralph. Young star DaMarcus Beasley was tearing down the wing, while youngster Justin Mapp controlled things in midfield. The future, and present, was bright in The Windy City.
2004: Columbus Crew – 49 points
The Columbus Crew made history in 2004, not only by winning their first Supporter’s Shield in history but by doing it with such mediocrity that the feat has only been matched by one other team. The Crew clinched the Supporter’s Shield with a record low 49 points. But that’s on the rest of the league for not getting more, right?
Even more incredible than their lackluster points total was the fact that they did it directly after the departure of club legend Brian McBride to England. The club ended the season on an 18-match unbeaten streak but would be eliminated in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
2005: San Jose Earthquakes – 64 points
The San Jose Earthquakes decided to give their fans one last thing to enjoy before they packed up and left town, a Supporter’s Shield. The team relocated to Houston in the offseason. San Jose was awarded an expansion franchise and the team returned to the Bay Area in 2008.
The Quakes set a league record with an 18-4-10 record and went undefeated at home. They were eliminated from the playoffs in the Conference Semi-finals. Ironically, the team would go on to back-to-back MLS Cup titles in their first two seasons in H-Town.
2006: D.C. United – 55 points
The 2006 D.C. United squad would be the first of a set of three clubs to win back to back Supporter’s Shields. It was their third overall Shield and the club’s first since 1999. Piotr Nowak managed the club to the top of the table and coached a team that included aging stars Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian.
Argentine Christian Gomez led the team in goals with 14 in the league and scored two in the playoffs. Despite this United were dumped out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New England Revolution.
2007: D.C. United – 55 points
D.C. United underwent significant changes ahead of the 2007 season, with head coach Piotr Nowak leaving to become a part of Bob Bradley’s national team staff. His assistant Tom Soehn was promoted to the head job.
Despite this turnover, D.C. were better than ever, posting a club-best record of 16-7-7 and becoming the first club in MLS history to win back-to-back Shields. Posting record regular-season numbers didn’t help them in the postseason, however, and they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by the Chicago Fire.
2008: Columbus Crew – 57 points
The 2008 Columbus Crew season can be described in 3 words. Guillermo. Barros. Schelotto. The former Boca Juniors playmaker finally put it all together in 2008 for the Crew. Schelotto recorded 7 goals and added 19 assists on his way to picking up the MLS MVP award.
His incredible form continued in the playoffs, assisting on all three goals in the 2008 MLS Cup Final. Columbus defeated the New York Red Bulls in the Final 3-1. League veteran Alejandro Moreno contributed 9 goals during the regular season.
2009: Columbus Crew – 49 points
It was the 2009 version of the Columbus Crew that matched the 2004 edition for the lowest points ever by a Supporter’s Shield winner. MLS Cup-winning head coach Sigi Schmid left the club and was replaced by former player Robert Warzycha.
While the results were not as glorious yet the team played well winning the Shield and Chad Marshall picking up Defender of the Year. However, they stumbled in the playoffs falling to Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference semis.
2010: Los Angeles Galaxy – 59 points
The Galaxy put together the league’s finest season despite the departure of some of its stars, Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan, for the 2010 World Cup. Role players stepped up, and Donovan Ricketts produced a goalkeeper of the year performance.
David Beckham returned from injury late in the summer, and Buddle and Donovan returned to the team in good form. Together, the trio led the Galaxy to the Shield with a 2-1 win over FC Dallas on the final day of the season. Ironically, it would be FC Dallas that knocked the Galaxy out of the playoffs one round before the Final.
2011: Los Angeles Galaxy – 67 points
The 2011 Galaxy are the most recent team to go back-to-back with Shield winning seasons, and they made it count. The Galaxy put up one of the league’s best-ever seasons. During the year they went on an incredible 14-game unbeaten streak and posted 8 shutouts.
Omar Gonzalez was named MLS Defender of the Year, while Gonzalez and three teammates were named in the MLS Best XI. Mid-season arrival Robbie Keane eased into the league and set up the MLS Cup Final winning goal, scored by Landon Donovan.
2012: San Jose Earthquakes – 66 points
If you count the club’s previous iterations, the 2012 season marked the 30th year of the San Jose Earthquake. In honor of that, the club put on a fantastic performance. The club finished with a 19-6-9 record, and just 3 points ahead of Sporting Kansas City.
Led by the league’s leading goal scorer, Chris Wondolowski, the Quakes raced into the playoffs with the top seed. Unfortunately, they ran up against their Cali Clasico rivals, the LA Galaxy. The third time was not the charm, as the Quakes could not get a third win over their rivals on the season. Unfortunately, the stakes were even higher in this Clasico and the Quakes exited the playoffs prematurely.
2013: New York Red Bulls – 59 points
Despite being one of the league’s original teams, the club had not won a trophy in 18-year history. They finally had something to put in their trophy case after the 2013 season. This version of the Red Bulls was the culmination of a good bit of investing.
The team featured global stars Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry and was filled out with league veterans Fabian Espindola and Dax McCarty. After years of underachieving, the Red Bulls won the Supporter’s Shield by 1 solitary point. It was the same old Red Bulls once the playoffs started, however, as they were knocked out by Houston in the first round.
2014: Seattle Sounders – 64 points
The Seattle Sounders had flirted with greatness since their admission into MLS, impressing the league with the playing style and their passionate fanbase. 2014 was their time to finally reward their fan’s faith. The club did the double, winning the Supporter’s Shield by 3 points and lifting the U.S. Open Cup.
The Sounders featured a ruthless 1-2 punch upfront of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Together, the pair combined for 32 goals and 23 assists. The Sounders made a run in the playoffs that most thought would end in a historic treble, however, they went out against the LA Galaxy in the Conference Finals on away goals.
2015: New York Red Bulls – 60 points
A new era had begun in New York. Jesse Marsch was in charge and his high-pressing style had his Red Bulls taking the league by storm. The big-name stars of yesteryear were gone and replaced by a new generation of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, and Matt Miazga.
Together they put forth the finest season in club history and gave fans hope they could finally do some damage in the postseason. Instead, they were knocked out in the Conference Finals by the Columbus Crew.
2016: FC Dallas – 60 points
FC Dallas came out of nowhere to claim the Supporter’s Shield. In a league dominated by the West Coast powers, FC Dallas stunned the league by putting together an incredible season. 2016 was the most successful season in FC Dallas history. They won both the Supporter’s Shield and the U.S. Open Cup.
Though they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas dominated the regular season. Matt Hedges was named MLS Defender of the Year and Mauro Diaz added 5 goals and 13 assists from midfield.
2017: Toronto FC – 69 points
The 2017 Toronto FC team is the greatest Canadian soccer team in history, and for a while, they were the best MLS team in history as well. The club set an MLS record for points on their way to the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup. The team were runaway winners of the Shield with a 12-point margin on the final day.
The club featured an incredible collection of talent including Italian Sebastian Giovinco, and Americans Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley. The team’s successes were the result of years of investment from their ownership group and the club finally got the job done in 2017. Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, and Justin Morrow were all named MLS Best XI and head coach Greg Vanney was named Coach of the Year.
2018: New York Red Bulls – 71 points
2018 was the culmination of a years-long project for the Red Bulls. Their prize? Not MLS Cup, that would remain elusive. Instead, they put up the most points in MLS history on their way to the Supporter’s Shield. Their 71 points topped Toronto FC’s record of 69 from the year prior.
The ageless Bradley Wright-Phillips continued to lead the team in scoring, but the team also included new stars such as midfielder Tyler Adams and MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long. The club changed leadership midway through the season, as the architect of this team Jesse Marsch, was poached by sister club, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
The change in leadership cannot be blamed for their continued postseason failures, the club actually improved when Marsch’s assistant Chris Armas, took over. They finished the regular season on a 5 game winning streak. Yet playoff success continued to elude them and they were eliminated by the eventual champions Atlanta United in the Conference Finals.
2019: Los Angeles FC – 72 points
The Red Bulls points record didn’t last too long, as LAFC caught fire in 2019. The points record wasn’t the only record to fall during the 2019 season. Talismanic winger Carlos Vela crushed the MLS single-season goal scoring record by putting 34 goals in the net.
In just their second season in existence, LAFC were the toast of the league. They played fast attacking football featuring exciting attackers Vela, young Uruguayan forwards Diego Rossi, and Brian Rodriguez. They were balanced well with midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta, and defenders Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura.
Yet, as is the trend with recent Supporter’s Shield winners, LAFC failed to lift MLS Cup. They were eliminated by their Western Conference rivals Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Finals.
2020: Philadelphia Union – 47 points
Like most things in 2020, the Supporter’s Shield took its fair share of lumps. Towards the end of the season, it was announced that the Shield would not be given out due to the upheaval throughout the season. However, a week later, the prize was reinstated.
The Philadelphia Union lifted their first-ever Supporter’s Shield, in what was the strangest season in MLS history. The Union won it with just 47 points, but of course, their low total is due to playing a pandemic shortened season.
However, their 2.04 points per game tied them for the second-highest points per game average in league history. The Union finished three points ahead of Toronto FC to win the trophy.
Unfortunately for the Union, their regular-season success did not translate to the postseason and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New England Revolution.