CARSON, Calif. — Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy have claimed the Supporters' Shield the past two years running. They'll be after a third in 2012, but since the rules have changed, the Galaxy coach thinks the trophy itself should have changed, too.
With an unbalanced schedule, teams will not be on level playing fields, he says, and as such, the same trophy that was awarded under one set of criteria should not have been maintained under a different set of criteria.
“[The Shield] does carry the same meaning because they give it,” Arena recently told MLSsoccer.com. “Why they did not understand that it skews the competition, I don’t quite get it, is odd to me. I think if you are going to have an unbalanced schedule, what you should have is a regular-season champion in both leagues. It doesn’t make sense doing it the way we’re doing it.”
The Galaxy amassed 126 points over the last two seasons, 15 more than the closest competitor (Seattle) over that span. Those point totals reflected just how strong clubs compared with one another because every club had the same schedule — home and away against every other club in the league. This season, though, the Galaxy will play Western Conference rivals three times while playing Eastern teams just once.
For instance, LA will play Real Salt Lake three times in 2012 while playing New England once. RSL averaged 54.5 the last two seasons while New England had a combined 60 points in that span. Of course, it's also important to remember that LA — and other Western Conference sides — will only play the East elite once this season as well.
“I could be wrong, but if you put a mathematician out there, he would explain that it probably doesn’t make sense," Arena said, "that it probably doesn’t define a true champion for the regular season because the schedule is not balanced.”
Still, whether the Galaxy can once again successfully defend their Supporters’ Shield title or not under the new rules, one thing remains unchanged.
“You still want to be on top at the end of the year, regardless,” Arena said. “Having the competition set up this way certainly opens up a lot of debate. Does it really declare the regular-season champion? We’ll have to let itself play out, but it seems real odd to me that it’s done this way.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.