MLS guest blog: Why LA Galaxy deserve more than just the Supporters Shield and a playoff crapshoot

Welcome to MirrorFootball's MLS blog, brought to you in conjunction with ESPN. Every week USA legend Alexi Lalas will be on hand to bring you the latest news from the States, and you'll also be able to watch the week's best goals and highlights...

The LA Galaxy have officially won the 2011 Supporters Shield, meaning they are guaranteed to have the best record in MLS at the end of the season. Time to pop the champagne, right?

Well, not so fast. As I’m sure you know, US sports adhere to the philosophy of the great Janet Jackson: ‘What have you done for me lately?’

Translation: Playoffs!

Over here, MLS teams are not judged on how they do from March to October, but on how they do in the playoffs, and in particular, on whether they win the MLS Cup or not.

So, in essence, when the regular season ends, the playoffs come along and wipe the slate clean.

Now I happen to love playoffs. They give middling teams a new lease on life, and inject new interest and competition at a time when supporters could turn their attention elsewhere. But at the same time, I wish the Supporters Shield winners were rewarded with more than a shield.

Because history has not been kind to Shield winners. In the 15 years of MLS, only five teams have won both the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup in the same year.

The LA Galaxy have been phenomenal in 2011, but they will have to play the Russian roulette of the playoffs like everyone else.

It seems unfair. After all, the Supporters Shield winners have risen above all others in a league renowned for parity. They are also the team most likely to have provided their supporters/customers with a consistently successful product throughout the year.

And what do they get for their efforts? An automatic bid to the CONCACAF Champions League, home-field advantage through the playoffs, and a little bonus money.

It should be more. So here are my suggestions to fatten up the spoils for the Supporters Shield winner:

1) More money
The monetary reward for winning the MLS Cup is $200K, dispersed among the 23 or so players on the roster. In other words, it’s not very much. But it’s still something, especially to the mid and lower level guys making low salaries. So, take it away from the Cup winners and give it to the Supporters Shield winners. MLS Cup winners can survive with the proverbial confetti-scene on national television and the star on their jersey. That’s enough.

2) The top draft pick
MLS has a draft every year that usually features about 10-20 quality players from the college and amateur ranks. Generally, the worst-performing clubs from the previous season are allotted the top picks. Forget that. Give the Shield winners the top spot.

3) The guard of honour
We’ll borrow this from you. I think it’s awesome. As soon as a team wins the Shield, they’re honoured in any remaining regular season games and playoffs games (home or away) with the opposition forming a corridor as they enter the field.

Playoffs are part of our American sports culture. But sometimes they’re a crapshoot. If the LA Galaxy don’t end up winning MLS Cup, some will consider their season a failure. It’s not fair, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles, as we say.

The Galaxy’s accomplishment of winning the 2011 Supporters Shield should be rewarded and MLS should do everything it can to make that reward as enticing as possible.

Alexi Lalas is a lead football analyst for ESPN - the live and exclusive broadcaster of Major League Soccer in the UK. Watch ESPN’s live coverage of LA Galaxy v Chivas USA at 2am on Sunday 15 October. ESPN and ESPN America are the home of major sports from the US, including NBA, MLB, NFL Monday Night Football and NCAA US college sports . For details visit www.espn.co.uk/tv

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