FC Dallas has four games left to go on the regular season slate. In the past, we know teams that have won MLS Cup have gotten hot around this time of the year as the playoffs draw near.
Our staff has been debating lately about whether or not it is worth going all out in these last few games. Even though the club has managed to keep their lead in the Supporters’ Shield, they haven’t exactly looked like world-beaters.
So what if FC Dallas wins the Shield but limp into the playoffs? Or if they lose out on the Shield but go into the playoffs with some rested legs?
Which would you rather have? Our staff discusses that below:
Ben Lyon: The Shield
The ultimate glory in American sports always goes to the playoff champion, and that’s plaid dandy. It’s not totally unique to the rest of the Americas, but it holds true for almost all sports in the US.
That said, the preparation for a long season in MLS isn’t predicated on a playoff run. The season plan is based on the best results, and the team who earns it deserves the prize. The home and away series limits the value (slightly) of the regular season, and a 7 month journey is fairly rewarded in the US with silverware for the team with the best record. That’s how it’s done in the rest of the world, and a tip of the hat is the least an MLS team deserves for that accomplishment.
I’m sure it’s possible to diminish FC Dallas’s performance this year if they don’t win MLS Cup, but it shouldn’t matter for the people that care. For the fans here, the team’s already legendary. For the single table hipsters debating the attributes of over-hopped swill, they’ll be the undisputed champions in an inferior league. That said, they delivered American Caviar on a sardine budget with farm to table efficiency. There’s already a hipster mole in our ranks selling this narrative, and we’re a scant few games from this mustachioed legend realizing his life goal. If accomplished, it will be done so against a grueling ending schedule. The Clubman run is nigh upon us!
Jason Poon: The Shield
Of the remaining two trophies to get, I personally value the Shield more than the MLS Cup. I know that without a balanced schedule, this trophy really comes down to whoever can dominate their conference better than the rest. As it stands, and has been for the past few years, the Western Conference has been the tougher conference. Can you imagine Dallas’ record if they were in the Eastern Conference?
The MLS Cup is also kind of a weird trophy to me - at least in its current format. Two-thirds of the teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs (which is ridiculous). All it takes at that point is for one team to go on a hot/lucky streak for 5-6 games. In this league, a 5-6 game run isn’t that uncommon.
To me, I find the Shield to be a much harder trophy to win as it takes in the full body of work over the course of the season. It (at least in theory) rewards the best team over the course of 34 games, and every team has to navigate relatively similar travel difficulties, injuries, absences and who knows what else.
If I had to pick between the two and forego one, I would pick winning the Shield over the MLS Cup. Of course, I would have a different tune if we weren’t in first place already and already have a trophy from this season. I’m picking from a position of luxury and quite frankly, it’s kinda nice for once.
Nathan Hill: The Cup
When in doubt, follow the lead of LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. In recent seasons, though his teams could have gone all out for the Shield, he knew it's the Cup that matters most and often chose to rest key players in final season match-ups. I think FC Dallas’ strategy here is to first and foremost lock up a great seed for the playoffs. Getting that opening game bye out of the way does a lot already as far as making things easier, but as we saw last year, nothing is guaranteed. The playoffs are a strange thing. Still, if we lock in that top seed, FC Dallas will have done more than enough to stake their claim for the Shield too. If they don't get it, it's because Colorado or Toronto or some other team edged them out. In other words, I really feel like the Shield will fall in their lap if they keep taking care of business, reaching for that top spot. If not, then it probably wasn't in their control anyway.
Edin Halilovic: The Shield
Either trophy would be great in all honesty and it’s a luxurious position to have a debate like this in the first place when over 90% of the season in this club’s history, you couldn’t possibly present or be presented a question like this. Adding anything onto the U.S. Open Cup triumph would signify a great year for the club so as long as FCD adds something else to the trophy cabinet by the end of the year, this will have been the most successful season in the franchise’s history and one of the most impressive by any MLS franchise in the modern era.
With that said, I value the Shield more than the MLS Cup simply because only the best team can win it by coming out on top from 20 clubs over a 34 game season spread out over a 8 month journey. You have to be consistent to win it and although FCD were quite close to getting it last year (only missing out on goal difference), they’re right up there again and are only two or three wins away from probably winning it this time around.
The MLS Cup, on the other hand, can be won by any team that simply gets hot at the right time and has some luck on their side to lead them to the trophy. Case in point, Portland last year. They were inconsistent throughout the season and couldn’t string more than two wins together on more than one occasion but they hit their stride and produced their best soccer when the playoffs came around. They weren’t the best team in the league throughout the year overall, but they were the best at the very end of the season and ended up winning the MLS Cup as a result.
So simply put, you can only win the Shield by being the most consistent team throughout an entire season while you can win the MLS Cup even by limping into the playoffs just so long as you produce your best form when the playoffs come around. By that same token, you can be the best team in the league all year long and win the Shield, but if you have a bad 45 minutes in a playoff game, your season could already be over. If I’m putting my eggs on one basket and want to stake a claim that Dallas is the best team in the league, I’m prioritizing the Shield over the MLS Cup. But there’s no reason why this team can’t have enough gas left in the tank to go for both so going for it all is the most ideal scenario for everyone.