On Oct. 1, the Columbus Crew was four days removed from a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC but were still atop of the Supporters’ Shield standings. The Black & Gold had 30 points and a goal differential of plus-15. Despite the loss, the Crew was in a good spot to finish the season at the top of the Major League Soccer table.
Columbus’ chances of winning the Supporters’ Shield dropped greatly over the weeks that followed, and the Shield itself almost didn’t survive October. The Black & Gold didn’t win another game for four matches and currently has just one win in its last six matches and currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference standings and the Supporters’ Shield race
In the meantime, the Supporters’ Shield Foundation announced on Oct. 17 in a tweet that it would “forego awarding the Supporters’ Shield for the 2020 season.” At the time, the Crew was winless in four and had recently lost 3-1 to FC Cincinnati, its first loss to the in-state rivals in league play.
An announcement from the Supporters' Shield Foundation board: pic.twitter.com/JSF8mmUXFp— Supporters' Shield Foundation (@SupporterShield) October 17, 2020
The announcement that the foundation would not give out the hardware to the team that finishes at the top of the regular season standings this season because it goes against “the spirit of the Shield,” elicited a strong response. It was a decision that brought supporters from around the league back to a unifying message of protest that hasn’t been seen since the early days of the Save The Crew campaign.
Unlike the year it took to undo the attempted relocation done by former investor-operator Anthony Precourt, the Supporters’ Shield Foundation reversed its decision six days later.
As the league nears the start of November, and with the soon-to-come MLS Cup playoffs starting on later that month, the Supporters’ Shield is restored and Columbus still has a chance to lift it, even though the team’s two-point lead to start the month is now a six-point deficit.
There’s no definite connection between the timing of the Supporters’ Shield’s reinstatement and what the Philadelphia Union did to Toronto the next day. After losing to TFC on Oct. 3, the Union put five past the then number one team in the standings. With that result, Philadelphia’s 22-point goal differential is a difficult tiebreaker to beat... but not impossible.
Due to the Orlando City SC match being postponed because of positive COVID-19 cases within the Columbus staff, the Crew plays one more match than both Toronto and Philadelphia. The Black & Gold have the opportunity to put pressure on the top of the standings on Wednesday when they travel to D.C. United. But the team’s best chance to chip away at the gap comes Sunday when Philadelphia returns to MAPFRE Stadium.
If Columbus comes out of those matches with two victories, the Crew will have to go through an away trip to Orlando City and Atlanta United on the final day of the season to stay in the running. Head coach Caleb Porter came to the Crew and told supporters that he is here to win trophies. All the trophies. If that holds true in this odd, pandemic season, the Black & Gold likely can’t afford to drop any points for the remainder of the season. Win 12 points, and Columbus will still possibly need help.
To win it, the Crew will need Toronto to at least lose one of the team’s last three. TFC welcomes New York City FC to its “home stadium” on Wednesday, a side tht recovered from its 3-1 loss to Columbus with a win of the same scoreline against the Montreal Impact. Sunday, Inter Miami visits Toronto. Even though they’ve had a difficult inaugural season, Miami is coming off a month where the team already has three victories, which doubles its win total from the first 15 matches. Most recently, Inter beat Orlando 2-1, which kept Miami in line for a play-in spot for the playoffs.
Connecticut’s adopted MLS side finishes their season against the New York Red Bulls, who are currently in seventh place and are looking to avoid a play-in game that the top six East sides will not have to play. If Columbus can manage to win out it last four, and Toronto drops one, the Black & Gold are plus-seven in goal differential.
Porter’s side will need a lot more help from Philadelphia. Unless the Crew can somehow close its own goal differential gap of seven, the Union will need to lose at least one and draw one. Outside of the most important (in terms of Supporters’ Shield standings) of its final three being in Columbus this Sunday, Philadelphia plays the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution.
Chicago is in 11th place and has four matches left to get into at least 10th and make the play-in round of four. New England is the final matchup of the season and the Revolution is currently in sixth in the East.
While the Black & Gold don’t have the points on their side to win the Supporters’ Shield on their own, all of the opponents for Philadelphia and Toronto are in important positions in the table, positions that they hope to improve or keep. If all three of the Eastern Conference contenders for the Supporters’ Shield have major slip-ups over the next couple of weeks, it opens up even more dialogue with Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders out West.
Even without a major flip in the standings, it’s going to be a race to watch, for a trophy that is definitely being awarded in 2020. The Crew still has a shot, for certain, but the Black & Gold must re-find that form that saw the team at the top of the standings for so much of the year.