The Union should be hosting MLS Cup

Photo: Stephen Speer

The Philadelphia Union should be hosting MLS Cup on Saturday.

Tied on points with LAFC, the Boys in Blue will be wearing their away shirts over the weekend because of a unique league rule in the upper tier of the global soccer universe: wins as a tie breaker to decide the champion.

Nowhere else in the top of the top flights is this the way.

Around the world

In England, tie breakers go like this:

If any clubs finish with the same number of points, their position in the Premier League table is determined by goal difference, then the number of goals scored, then the team who collected the most points in the head-to-head matches, then who scored most away goals in the head-to-head.

Goal difference? In favor of the Union – a nearly all-time number.

Number of goals scored? Union again, same kind of stratosphere.

Most points head-to-head in matches? Union, in a 2-2 draw in LA.

Most away goals in the head-to-head? Union for the fourth time.

In La Liga?

If the tie is between two clubs, then the tie is broken using the head-to-head goal difference for those clubs (without away goals rule). If the tie is between more than two clubs, then the tie is broken using the games the clubs have played against each other: a) head-to-head points. b) head-to-head goal difference.

Union. Union. Union. (Because road games are nearly impossible in MLS and the U took points in their only 2022 match)


If teams are level on points, tie-breakers are applied in the following order: Goal difference for the entire season. Total goals scored for the entire season. Head-to-head results (total points)


Want to be a big-time global league? Stop playing by small-time, provincial rules.

…which brings us to Serie A.

Tiebreaking. If after all 38 games there are two teams tied on points for first place, the team that wins the scudetto is decided by a single-legged play-off game of 90 minutes and penalties (no extra time), to be held at a neutral venue.

Or, the old version of MLS Cup.

But this isn’t MLS 2.0 – times have changed.

The root of the problem

Speaking of change, wins as a tie breaker is a relatively new phenomenon in MLS.

It wasn’t until 2012 that such a system was implemented, taking the place of head-to-head records and goal differential (Union, and Union again – *insert GIF of Kylo Ren demanding more*). The league’s board decided on this MLS 2.0 change to encourage teams to go for it rather than settle for draws.

Well, it’s 4.0 now and time for another system update.

Why? Because wins isn’t necessarily the most important metric for a success.

A team with two wins, a draw, and seven losses in 10 matches will end up with the same amount of points as one with seven draws and three losses. If those teams tied when they played during that stretch, only semantics would suggest that one metric is more valuable than another. Losing seventy percent of one’s games sounds worse than being unbeaten through seven, doesn’t it?

The rest of the world seems to think the answer to that semantical question is maybe yes, or at least that the decision point is something other than wins.

The league may not want any amendment here – especially this year especially, considering how it fawns over the California Death Star at every turn and finally has a Cup Final to host inside the sphere.

So, who can help make the change?

The fans.

Replacing the Supporter’s Shield Foundation

Major League Soccer awards the Supporter’s Shield, but the physical piece of silverware is presented by the Supporter’s Shield Foundation.

The Foundation are the original creators of the award (which wasn’t a part of the league’s initial trophy portfolio – and winning team’s supporter’s groups are stewards of it between cups), but perhaps most notably also the folks responsible for the 2020 debacle in which they unilaterally decided the trophy would not be given because of the idiosyncrasies of the Covid soccer calendar.

Even with the perspective of hindsight, it’s a shocking decision.

  • Jim Curtin said at the time, “I was literally sitting on my couch watching MLS games and I saw kind of a weird almost like an Onion-type of article that (the Supporters’ Shield postponement) was happening.”
  • Alejandro Bedoya continued, “It’s always been an unbalanced schedule and our players have put their health on the line this year. Fans are still supporting their teams and more than some random committee which no one knew existed. Perhaps it’s time MLS casts the “Supporters” Shield into the shadows.”
  • Greg Vanney, then-coach of Toronto FC, whom the Union pegged at the end for the title, “My players are pissed. It is a huge sign of disrespect to the players. It has arguably been the most difficult season in the history of our league where people have put their health at risk to play and put games on television for fans. This season has required a huge commitment from all teams – people were genuinely afraid for their health. It is a disgraceful decision that delegitimizes the whole idea of the Shield in my opinion. Those who made the decision are like kids in a park who take the ball away when the game isn’t going their way. It’s childish and a symbol that they don’t know how sports operates.

Is the reader a supporter of the Union? Likely.

Does the reader know anyone in the foundation? Had it not been for 2020, would the reader even know the foundation existed? The answer to these two questions is likely “no” – if the two best coaches in the league at the time didn’t know about it, certainly even passionate fans like the readers of this website had no idea.

That’s wrong.

What to do? Tear the whole thing down – if ever there were an MLS 1.0 quirk still lingering in the modern league, this is it.

Quirk aside, the Foundation’s mismanagement of stewardship duties in a time of crisis should be enough to remove them from their post as keepers of this award. To paraphrase, “no one knew they existed” until they decided to “disgrace” themselves when times were toughest.

For supporters – those in the know and those out – who don’t want the league to step in and take ownership of something that’s in the name of “Supporters?”

Fine – start a new Foundation to replace this one. There are certainly splinter groups in every supporter’s section. What authority does the original group have that these groups couldn’t usurp, especially after what happened in 2020? Then, award the new trophy based on better metrics – let all fans have a chance to be involved, to have a say.

Because as the old sayings go, people change, but seldom – or, if you can’t change people, change people.

Sour grapes?

It’s easy to read this piece and smell a bouquet of sour grapes.

Union fan wants the Cup, comes up with a ridiculous scheme to host it

Union fan is no longer a Supporter, wants to change a Supporter’s institution

If that’s all that can be gleaned, so be it.

Truth be told, all rules are made up by a cabal of unknown representatives. In America, it’s called “Congress.” Who’s to say these outdated benchmarks should be any different? That their origins are arbitrary doesn’t mean the Shield, those who make the decisions on awarding it, and the outcomes of those decisions in good years and bad shouldn’t be held to account.

At least folks get a say in who ends up in Congress.


  1. If it were up to me, the Supporter’s Shield would be retired. Give conference championship titles to the team at the top of the conference table when the season ends. When it comes to tiebreakers, goal difference is superior to wins in my opinion, too. It’s a better measure of a team’s season-long performance. Wins already have a premium of three points instead of two. And aren’t points earned in draws important because the team didn’t lose? LA lost four more times than the Union did.

    What are you going to do? Just gotta beat them on Sunday.

    • Yes, we just must win (on Saturday, not Sunday), but we may live to rue the days earlier in the season when we didn’t really show up and had some dreadful ties (plus some really stupid losses). One lousy point.

      We knew the rules (absurd as they are).

  2. Andre will come up BIG, BIG, BIG… withstanding almost all…
    and Carranza, Gasdag and Burke scoring… 3-1.

    MLS Cup Champs 2022… OMG!

    Party in Chester Sunday afternoon!

    Can’t Subaru host a watch party at the stadium?

    I would go for sure.

  3. We should stop referring to the first tiebreaker as most wins, when it’s really most losses. If team A has x more wins than team B, they also have 2x more losses if they are tied on points. In other words, LAFC lost 4 more games than the Union and that gave them the tiebreaker.
    One other thing to look at is the single regular season game between the two teams was at “I don’t know how to spell Bank” of California stadium. In other words, LAFC had the advantage there. It’s another argument for the game being in Chester. (As a matter of fact, 3 of the 4 regular season games between the teams were in LA…why wasn’t this season’s game at Subaru Park to make it a 2-2 split?)
    Of course we can’t expect more from a league who has decided to make games harder to watch for the next 10 years and that still thinks possibly bring0ing over a 36 year old player in 8 months from Europe is big news.

  4. PaulContinuum22 says:

    LMAO, LAFC… there’s no parking at Banc of California Stadium due to USC-UC/Berkeley at the Coliseum. USC gets precedence.
    LAFC fans gotta use Metro, ride sharing or bus shuttles from Dodger Stadium.
    Oh yeah; the 3252 can’t tailgate in Chavez Ravine

    • No kidding!
      MLS Cup with no parking available.
      Why am I reminded of a kind-hearted former president who lives on a ranch somewhere in Texas?

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    Been with the Union since day one. Been watching MLS fairly consistently for years before that. I watch a lot of MLS and soccer in general now. I feel like one of these years MLS will get it together on all (or most) fronts and I would like to be a part of it when they do. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I just want the best for OUR league. We don’t always have to do everything differently.
    And if the league had had it together, I would’ve saved about $2,000, since I am flying out with my son to be at the game this weekend. I mean, I’m beyond excited to go and to go with him, but it would’ve been quite a bit cheaper to tailgate in Lot A, instead of taking a 5+ hour flight. But hey, once in a lifetime (maybe)… GO UNION!

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