Paula Richardson had no idea she’d be crafting the third-most important trophy in U.S. soccer history when she was approached by Sam Pierron in October 1998 at the Hidden Glen Arts Festival at Cedar Creek in Olathe.
Pierron, now 36, was a student at Kansas, majoring in international studies and political science, but his true passion was the beautiful game.
Richardson, 37, was senior art student — also at Kansas, where her father, Gaylord, was a noted architecture professor — when Pierron came across an exhibition of her work at the school’s Hidden Glen booth.
“It was simple and clean, and that really matched my design aesthetic,” Pierron said. “The work that caught my eye was a pretty simple orb, but that kind of look was what I had in mind — something geometric and straight forward.”
For more than a year, the idea of creating the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded by MLS supporters’ groups to the team that finishes the regular season with the most points, had stalled.
Soccer fans from coast to coast lauded the idea, mostly via AOL’s now-defunct North American Soccer mailing list, and a committee even was formed to make the project a reality.
Several thousand dollars had been raised, including sizable contributions from former ESPN soccer analyst Phil Schoen and former MLS Commissioner Doug Logan, but the Supporters’ Shield still only existed as an idea.
But from those humble beginnings, everything clicked into place when Pierron, whose late mother helped organize the Hidden Glen Arts Fair, met Richardson.
The original Supporters’ Shield — a sterling-silver Chevron, hollow inside but not plated — will be retired at the end of the season.
During the winter, supporters’ groups unveiled a new Supporters’ Shield — a soccer ball-inspired disc that would make He-Man proud and represents the culmination of a years-long collaborative effort among fans from coast to coast to build a new trophy befitting a growing league.
Of course, that means an end to the 14-year run for the original trophy, which was brought into existence through the determination and talent of a couple college seniors in Lawrence.
“Sam was just on a mission,” Richardson said. “I’ll never forget that about him. He was so determined, just an intense determination and enthusiasm around him. He really believed in what he was doing.”
Richardson wasn’t much of a soccer fan, but she was a big fan of the $1,500 check Pierron promised. She never made as much for a commissioned work before or since.
“That was a lot of money for a college student,” Richardson said. “The first words out of my mouth were, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ but honestly I had never made a trophy before.”
Pierron was armed with a sketch, but he also gave Richardson some artistic license.
“I spent a few days going over the design, but I really liked the pure lines of it,” she recalled. “It was kind of a minimalistic piece, but it had a monumental feel.”
Between finals projects and fueled by coffee, Richardson hammered and soldered the first Supporters’ Shield into existence.
Several years after graduating from college, Richardson moved to Seattle hoping to start a jewelry-making company and that’s where she became a soccer fan, catching Seattle Sounders’ fever before moving to Davenport, Iowa. She now works for Gemvision, a company that develops 3D imaging software for jewelry design.
“I knew that trophy was out there, but to be honest I didn’t know it was out there as much as it was,” Richardson said. “Now, becoming a soccer fan, it has so much more meaning to me. I’m absolutely thrilled it became such an important icon in the world of soccer.
“From an artist’s standpoint, anything you create is like your offspring. You have an emotional tie to it, so it’s so nice to know it has a life of its own and that it means so much to people. Hands down, it’s the piece I am most proud of having created and always will be.”
During the spring of 1999, Pierron, who was the first president of what became The Cauldron and now works for Sporting Innovations, flew to Los Angeles with his mother, Amy, to present the original Supporters’ Shield to the Galaxy in recognition of the 1998 regular-season title.
“That was really the last trip we took together, because a few months later I moved to England for (the University of Liverpool’s football studies MBA program),” Pierron said. “Right after I moved, she had a massive series of strokes and died not too long after I moved back to the U.S.”
Fortunately, Amy lived long enough to see her son bring a dream — not only for him, but for soccer fans throughout the nation — to life.
“The night of the actual trophy presentation there was a monsoon,” Pierron said, “so I kind of scurried out onto the field. Octavio Zambrano was the manager and I presented it to him and the cast of several thousand who were at the Rose Bowl that night, but it has lasted and provided a foundation for bigger and better things.”
The original Supporters’ Shield was far from perfect.
It probably should have been a thicker gauge of silver, but “I got the thickest gauge I could buy with the funds,” Richardson said. “It honestly boiled down to money.”
Thanks to a last-minute decision not to inscribe the winners’ names directly on the chevron, it was hastily mounted on a base, where a crack later formed.
“That’s not surprising, because it was top heavy and didn’t have a great transit case,” Pierron said. “Some of the people transporting it might not have taken the greatest care, but it never fell off or anything.”
Still, imperfect as it was, it perfectly represented soccer in the U.S. at that time.
“It’s certainly humble,” Pierron said, “but it was very much representative of supporters’ culture. The original trophy still reflects its time and place very well.”
After the season, the trophy will return to Kansas City from the San Jose Earthquakes’ possession, but eventually it is destined for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame — assuming a new one is built. The original National Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., closed in 2010.
“I’m looking forward to having it around as a reminder,” Pierron said. “It was important to me that the original trophy be depicted on the new one as a visual reminder of the those roots. I’m also pleased as punch to have the newer, grander trophy that’s built to last a lifetime or several lifetimes.”