HARRISON, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe caused a stir in January when he said winning the Supporters' Shield was more important to him than capturing MLS Cup.
His comments fueled a debate among not only Red Bulls fans but also supporters throughout the league on the value of the Shield — awarded to the regular-season champion — vs. MLS Cup.
It’s also a debate that rages in Backe’s own locker room.
“I think the Supporters' Shield is the more important one,” defender Danleigh Borman told MLSsoccer.com. "It is the true one — the true test of who has performed best over the course of the season. It shows that over 30-plus games, you were consistent. You were there at a high level.”
Borman’s rationale echoes the mentality of Backe, who sees value in New York claiming the Shield as it shows constant winning over the stretch of the season.
To win MLS Cup, a lower seed can squeak into the postseason and catch fire at the right time. Are they as true of a champion as a team that performed at a high level throughout the season? The Red Bulls are split on the topic.
[inline_node:329848]“[For me] it’s the MLS Cup,” second-year midfielder Tony Tchani said. “People remember that one more. The Shield is nice, but that isn’t the way the league is set up. To me, the MLS Cup, it is more important. It’s the one you see raised on TV and in the commercials.”
Borman shook his head.
“But in the rest of the world, it would be the winner of the season,” Borman said. “It would be the team standing at the end of the year with the most points – that’s the shield.”
Tchani tilted his head back and laughed, waving his finger at Borman.
“But we’re not playing in the rest of the world. We’re playing here in MLS,” Tchani said. “Maybe it is different than what you see in other leagues, but it’s what we recognize here and that’s what matters. It’s what people see and associate with being the champion in this league.”
Though Backe did acknowledge to MLSsoccer.com that his priorities might shift away from the regular-season title as his team will be hit with a large number of call-ups in 2011 — a situation that will test both the Red Bulls' consistency and depth — he said he would still prefer a team that wins throughout the entire campaign.
“I’d like to win the Shield,” Backe said. “I don’t want to be misunderstood — I want to win the MLS Cup — but I see the Shield as showing a real test for the team that gets it.”
Then again, assistant coach Mike Petke has an easy solution to the debate.
"There’s an easy way to handle it: Go out there and win both," Petke said. "And get the US Open Cup. Then there’s no questions.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer