Surely it’s a challenge for American fan bases to get behind regular season championship, if due solely to the traditions involved with our major leagues.
In fact, in a lot of ways we stop just short of invalidating amazing seasons by disappointing playoff runs, as if having a bad game or fortnight is the equivalent of a character indictment.
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The Golden State Warriors lost single-digit games in 2015-16, but lost to the Cavs in the finals. The 2007 New England Patriots went an absurd 16-0 in the NFL, but didn’t win the Super Bowl.
Yet here we are, three days from silverware heading to either Atlanta United or New York Red Bulls based on superlative regular seasons, and I can’t help but feel the Supporters’ Shield isn’t getting short shrift.
In a league which punishes away teams more than any other, where quality depth remains a problem and over-stresses the main players on a given team, this should be a much bigger deal.
Atlanta has a one-point lead on the New York Red Bulls, and a one-goal lead in differential. The clubs went head-to-head twice and RBNY won twice: First, a 3-1 win in Atlanta. Then, on Sept. 30, the Red Bulls beat visiting Atlanta despite a suspension to 20-goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips.
So Atlanta heads up to Ontario to face last season’s struggling Shield winners, Toronto FC, while at the same time, the Red Bulls host former captain Sacha Kljestan and mostly miserable Orlando City.
If both teams wins, they will boast the Nos. 1 and 2 point totals in MLS history. And one won’t win the shield.
Atlanta is seeking its first shield in a season its dealt with coach drama and plenty of transfer gossip regarding its star. It also boasts the best single-season finisher in MLS history in Josef Martinez.
RBNY is the shining example of development in MLS, whether midfielders or coaches. The club changed managers midseason, and overcame a disappointing start to put together an amazing campaign.
So while we relish the idea of these teams meeting in the Eastern Conference finals, there’s something about this weekend which is equal parts tantalizing.