Last year I wrote a fan post detailing how a team could finish as low as 7th in the Supporters Shield race and still get a CCL berth. It was lots of "if this happens and that happens". A lot of these "ifs" seemed pretty implausible at the time. For exmaple, the idea that a Canadian team would be near the top of the Shield race...or even making the playoffs with any steam...was close to laughable. A lot has changed in a year. Here are some current conditions that could see a team in a 4th or even 5th position in the Supporter's Shield race getting a CCL bid:
- RSL is currently leading the Shield race, in the Open Cup final, and 2nd in the league in ppg.
- Montreal is currently in 2nd in the Shield race, and 1st in ppg in MLS
Ideally, the Sounders take the games they hold in hand and use them to win the Shield. Then, they win the Cup as well and this math is someone else's problem. However, let's say RSL beats DCU for the Open cup, which will be played in Sandy, Utah. They will be considerable favorites, so this is the expected result. This locks a CCL berth for them.. If they then keep up their current form and win the Shield as well, a CCL berth falls to the 2nd place finisher in the SS race - unless that team is Montreal (which it currently is). Montreal cannot claim it, so it goes the 3rd place finisher. Let's then assume that one of these teams - or Vancouver - makes it to the Cup final. It then falls to the 4th place finisher. What if the MLS Cup final actually ended up being RSL vs Montreal in this scenario (currently east and west leaders respectively)? Montreal can't take a bid for finishing high in the SS race nor for the Cup final...RSL can't take one for the Cup final if they have already won the US Open Cup. RSL gets one berth for the Open Cup and the 3rd, 4th and 5th place SS finisher get the remaining 3....UNLESS one of those teams is Vancouver...the Whitecaps are only 3 pts out of that position with a game in hand on the team that currently holds it. In this case, 3rd, 4th and 6th go.
There are multiple other crazy scenarios...but you get the picture. The takeaway is that every game, every point is super-crazy-important this year - even if we have clinched a playoff berth a few weeks from now. The Cup race is a crap-shoot. In many ways, a 2nd or 3rd place Supporters' Sheild berth is a higher-percentage path to CCL than simply making the playoffs. Of course, each point you get puts you in better playoff position...so it's not one or the other. I expect the Sounders to go for all the shiny things. This year, however, could be the year where a team well down the Shield standings gets to test themselves against the giants of La Liga MX. Despite the fact that I'm typically a sucker for the underdog, I'll be cheering RSL on in the US Open Cup simply to give the Sounders more avenues into 2014 CCL play where they belong.