What Is Ours
Over on the right, you see an image of the MLS Supporter's Shield. For 2006, that trophy enters the walnut panels of the DC United Trophy Case. For most of this year, the Supporter's Shield has been a primary focus of this blog. Back in February, The DCenters was a fan of changing the rules to award a CONCACAF Champions berth to the Supporter's Shield Winner. The DCenters may not have thought that DC was a favorite to win the shield, but we cared enough about the regular season to calibrate our progress against gaining the shield.
And now, it is ours. Strangely, I feel a little deprived. Once the playoffs became a fait accompli, the Supporter's Shield kept me tethered to the season, constantly checking other teams progres to see how much room we had. And we've won it, and the right for international play. Piotr Nowak has decribed is as the second most important trophy he could win this year, and he's right, it does place second to the MLS Cup... but not by much. As commenter RFK 315 wrote:
"...because in most leagues around the world, finishing first in the standings IS the Championship. I'm no Eurosnob, but it is the indication of a dominant season, whereas a hot playoff run can happen to any sorry team"
I agree largely with that sentiment, and I'm happy that for once this accomplishment is rewarded within MLS. It is important, given the unbalanced schedules and conference split, that the MLS Championship go to the MLS Cup Winner. Until we get a single table (see: "Pigs, Flying") it must be so. It also seems strange that the day this honor is cemented is a day we lost, but watching all those games, attending those matches against Kansas City, Chicago, Real Salt Lake, Columbus, Houston, FC Dallas... they all mattered to me. And so the Supporter's Shield matters to me.
Here's where I may get into trouble with fellow fans, and perhaps fellow writers on this site -- By winning the Shield, and earning the right to play internationally next year, the 2006 season for DC United must be recorded as a success, regardless of playoff results. Yes, winning the MLS Cup is still important, but even a first round failure (god-forbid!) can't negate the accomplishments of this team. Now, of course I still want the MLS Cup, and a fifth star. But I could be... content if it didn't happen. Now, I hate to admit that, especially since it is the precise mindset that you can be sure Piotr Nowak wants to discourage among the other players. But I'm not a player, I'm a fan. And I've realized that DC has more than rewarded my support in its performance on the field this season. I won't be happy if we bomb out in the playoffs, and I may use a few choice words in this blog if it happens, but I also won't look on everything that has happened and said in meant nothing.
Now, given that the only thing left to accomplish is the playoffs, let me also say this: Forget momentum - rest the starters. Really. A two game win streak will mean little compared to a healthy and relaxed Moreno, Gomez, Adu, Olsen, Carroll (B.), and Boswell. Go ahead and let Rimando get a start in. Let's hope Esky can work in a few games to get his fitness into shape. Continue working with Donnet. Get Dyachenko some work as a target forward in addition to being a playmaker. It's preseason. That's much more important than even setting the points record for "Best DC United team ever". They're already one of the best, the only thing that matters is where in the top tier they will settle. Only the playoffs can decide that now.