Everything you need to know about FC Cincinnati winning the Supporters' Shield

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FC Cincinnati added a new chapter to their historic rise atop Major League Soccer, securing regular season supremacy by winning the prestigious Supporters’ Shield, the first MLS trophy in club history.

In their fifth MLS season, FC Cincinnati (19-4-8, 65 pts.) dominated the field of 29 teams, needing just 31 games to earn the trophy for the most regular-season points. With a 3-2 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday night, FCC also locked up the overall No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the upcoming Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

FC Cincinnati will officially lift their silverware for the first time in front of faithful fans attending Wednesday night’s home match against New York Red Bulls. The Supporters’ Shield Celebration will take place on the field at TQL Stadium following the match.

What it means: FCC’s place in history

Debuting in the league in 2019, FC Cincinnati etched their name into the history books as the 16th different club in the 28th season of MLS to earn the Supporters’ Shield, and only the fifth active club to win it within their first five seasons in MLS.

FCC is also the second fastest active expansion club to win the Supporters’ Shield since the league’s initial expansion in 1998; only LAFC (2019, second season) did it quicker.

Fifteen current clubs are still seeking to win the coveted trophy, with six finishing in the runner-up position, and the remaining nine teams finishing outside of the top two.

Internationally, the regular season trophy is considered the pinnacle of success and the most difficult accomplishment in a soccer season, representing the culmination of team success through an entire season. In top leagues worldwide, the team with the most points is crowned the league champion and the Supporters’ Shield is that honor in MLS.

FC Cincinnati’s resurgence can be traced back to the hirings of general manager Chris Albright (Oct. 2021) and head coach Pat Noonan (Dec. 2021). In Albright and Noonan’s first full season with the club in 2022, The Orange and Blue claimed their first playoff berth and playoff win, and continued the momentum into the 2023 season.

FC Cincinnati are in contention to set the all-time MLS single-season points record, achieved by New England Revolution (73) in 2021. To break the mark, FCC would have to win their final three matches of the regular season. The club’s current point total ranks as the eighth-best Supporters’ Shield season of all-time.

This year’s squad is led by Landon Donovan MLS MVP front runner and captain Luciano Acosta, who ranks atop the league in goal contributions (15 goals, 13 assists) and is tied in the MLS Golden Boot race.

TQL Stadium has been a fortress with 13 sellouts in 15 matches this season. FC Cincinnati is just the 13th club in MLS history – including the MLS shootout era – to earn at least 13 home wins in a single season. The Orange and Blue have two home matches remaining to attempt to set the all-time league record at 15.

What’s next: MLS Cup Playoffs 

By earning the Supporters’ Shield, FC Cincinnati clinched home-field advantage throughout the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. FCC currently hold a league-best 13-1-1 mark at TQL Stadium, giving The Orange and Blue a significant advantage in the chase for the MLS Cup.

In the league’s new playoff format, No. 1 seed FC Cincinnati will open against the Eastern Conference Wild Card winner in an enhanced Round One Best-of-3 series. The Wild Card winner will be determined by a single-elimination matchup between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds ahead of Round One.

Since FCC will be the higher seed, the first Best-of-3 match would be hosted at TQL Stadium, the second at the lower seed’s grounds, and the third, if necessary, back at TQL Stadium. If a Round One match is tied at the end of regulation, no extra time will be played. Teams will participate in kicks from the penalty spot to determine the winner. The first team to win two matches will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

From there, all FCC playoff games will be a single-elimination match held at TQL Stadium, with the MLS Cup presented by Audi also being held at FC Cincinnati’s home stadium should they advance to the championship match. 

All playoff games will be broadcast on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

Looking back: History of the Shield

The Supporters’ Shield has been awarded to the best MLS regular season team every season since 1999 (and retroactively since the inaugural season in 1996) by the Independent Supporters’ Council. The trophy was invented by fans looking to celebrate the regular season winners as similarly done in European and world soccer where no playoff format is utilized. 

Self-funded by supporters of clubs all over MLS, the original trophy was created to look like a chevron, and was first awarded to the 1998 regular-season champions LA Galaxy at the beginning of the 1999 season. From that point, an annual tradition developed with the Shield being passed on from the supporters of the previous year’s winner to the supporters of the next winner.

In 2013, the trophy was redesigned to its current form today, with the inner circle of the Shield retaining its chevron shape with a larger circular body around it to create a more ‘shield’ looking facade. Sculpted into the outer circles are designs to look like the classic telstar soccer ball design along with engravings of each Supporters’ Shield winner. The Shield, made of sterling silver and stainless steel and weighing 35 pounds, is designed to grow over time as more teams win the Shield and are etched into its history. 

The Supporters’ Shield and its winner received limited praise in its early days, but was formalized by the US Soccer Federation in 2006 when it was deemed its winner would receive passage to the CONCACAF Champions League. That honor remains as now the winner receives entry to the CONCACAF Champions Cup Round One.