Sources: MLS Supporters’ Shield back on again

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Bowing to public pressure, and after consulting with representatives of the Independent Supporters’ Council, the Supporters’ Shield Foundation reversed course on Friday, and will award the Supporters’ Shield in 2020, sources have told ESPN.

The trophy is annually awarded by the fans to the MLS team with the highest regular season points total. But last week, citing the inability of fans to attend games for much of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supporters’ Shield Foundation said they would skip this season’s trophy because awarding it in the current climate went against “the spirit of the Shield.”

Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney, whose side currently has the most points in the league, led the criticism that followed from MLS coaches in U.S. and Canada.

“My players are pissed. It is a huge sign of disrespect to the players,” Vanney told TSN. “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 required a huge commitment from all the teams — people were genuinely afraid for their health. It’s a disgraceful decision that delegitimizes the whole idea of the Shield, in our opinion.”

After soliciting feedback from ISC members, the SSF voted on Thursday night to reverse the initial decision.

The MLS season has been played against a backdrop of considerable competitive balance issues due to the pandemic. Starting in early March, the league went on a four-month hiatus, forcing the regular season to be shortened from 34 games to 23.

Following the MLS is Back tournament that was held in a bubble in Orlando, the league returned to play in home markets, and opted to make the remaining games more regionalized in a bid to limit travel. Local health restrictions have dicated whether or not fans can attend, so some clubs have had fans but others have not.

Since Sept. 24, 10 MLS games have been postponed due to positive COVID tests among players and staff. That has called into question whether each team will be able to complete the reduced 23-game schedule prior to the start of the postseason, scheduled to begin on Nov. 20.

Commissioner Don Garber said back in August that the league might use points per game instead of total points to determine where teams finish in the standings if the league season couldn’t be completed.

The Shield was created by club fans in the early years of MLS. It was first awarded in 1999, though the top point-getters from 1996 to 1998 later had their names inscribed on the trophy. DC United and the LA Galaxy have claimed the most Shields with four each. LAFC won the trophy last season.