One of the most important trophies in U.S. soccer had salsa dripped on it recently at a Cauldron organizer’s house, where it spent a week adorning a coffee table in suburbia.
Such is the life of the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
Awarded for the first time in 1999, the Supporters’ Shield recognizes the top points winner each season. It has been deemed important enough that each winner also receives an berth into CONCACAF Champions League each year.
But unlike other trophies in professional sports — including hockey’s Stanley Cup, which has a well-documented history of its own odd encounters — the Supporters’ Shield is an award created, funded and administered solely by the league’s fans.
As such, salsa incidents sometimes happen.
“I’m not aware of anyone using it as a chip tray yet, but there were a couple barbecue fingerprints from the ISC (Independent Supporters Council) meeting back in January,” said Sean Dane, who is a Cauldron organizer, but not the salsa-offending rogue.
Dane is, however, president of the Supporters’ Shield Foundation, which commissioned a new Supporters’ Shield to replace the original, more quaint version — a vision that was realized two months ago.
“About five years ago in Toronto, (Cauldron member and Sporting Innovations designer) Sam Pierron started this process with many of the other supporter leaders,” Dane said. “The basic deal was the growth of supporters had outgrown the original trophy itself. There was a strong desire to create a new one.”
The original Supporters’ Shield — a sterling silver, chevron-shaped trophy that was designed and crafted for $2,200 by a female metalwork student at the University of Kansas whose work caught Pierron’s eye at an art fair in Olathe — can trace its genesis to the old AOL North American Soccer board, where a fan for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny first circulated the idea.
Recently, though, as the league has blossomed, it became clear the Supporters’ Shield needed an upgrade too.
During the ISC meeting at Sporting Park in January, the new Supporters’ Shield, a 35-pound, soccer-ball inspired design created by Toronto-based artist Kyle Stewart and crafted by Frank Bordieri of the Toronto-based Awardco firm, made its debut.
“What I like is that it reflects the past, while still making it a much more formal trophy,” Dane said. “That chevron shape from the original shield is still reflected in the center, but it’s clearly a more luxurious trophy. It has the look of an award more befitting the achievement of finishing as the points winner.”
The new Supporters’ Shield price tag? More than $15,000, which speaks to the health of supporters culture in the MLS. Groups from all 19 MLS teams helped fund the new trophy.
“With the Independent Supporters Council, there are rivals in the room and groups that don’t always get along, but they have bonded over these common goals and what’s good for the league and good for the game,” said Zach Cobb, a Cauldron organizer. “It has been incredible to see what groups pitted against each other can do when they realize that they all have similar goals.”
Individual fans can also buy a piece of the trophy through “I Support the Shield” scarf sales at the Supporters’ Shield Foundation’s website, www.supportersshield.org.
“The fact that it’s completely supporter-based makes it a unique arrangement,” Cobb said. “Obviously, it’s unique in the United States and we are lucky that the league has given it so much credence.”
The new Supporter’s Shield will tour the continent, making stops with all 19 MLS teams. It will be at Sporting Park for the MLS All-Star Game on July 31 as well as Sporting Kansas City’s regular-season meeting Aug. 3 against the New York Red Bulls.