Handicapping and previewing the MLS Supporters' Shield race

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Four teams are within one point of the top spot and eight teams are still mathematically alive heading into the final two weeks of the season.

Hopefully you've taken a look at the MLS Supporters' Shield standings recently. If not, here's a very simple link. With two games left to be played in the season, eight teams still have a semi-realistic chance of claiming the regular-season title. Even if we want to narrow down that list to teams within two points of the top of the table, there are six teams.

Let that settle in. Basically, one third of the league still has a chance to lay claim to being the best side in MLS. The technical term for this is "crazy pants."

Of course, there's a chance that by the end of the year it shakes out and doesn't look quite as crazy, but as of today it sure seems like we're destined to have the most competitive race in league history. The only other year that even came close was 2009, when the Columbus Crew won the Shield with the paltry total of 49 points -- one better than two teams, two better than one more and four better than two others. So that year, there were six teams within four points. But that's a little misleading, as the Crew actually clinched the top spot with one game left in the season.

To help you make sense of this, we've compiled a bit of a viewer's guide (they are in the order of who I think is the most likely to win the Shield):

The Favorites

Sporting Kansas City (Standings: 4th, 52 points; Remaining games: vs. D.C. United, at Union): If I'm picking favorites, this is mine, especially if the Timbers and RSL battle to a tie. They've kind of been lurking around the top of the table all year, but have never taken control. Their big test will likely be on the road against a Union team that could very well be playing for its postseason lives. This is the same Union team that handed Sporting KC a 1-0 loss at Sporting Park just a few weeks ago.

Portland Timbers (2nd, 53 points; vs. Real Salt Lake, at Chivas USA): I would hesitate to say they have the easiest path to the title as RSL is one of the best teams in the league, but if they win their first game that's who I'd put my money on. The Timbers have already improved by 19 points, one of the biggest turnarounds in league history. Winning the Shield would pretty much be the cherry on top.

Real Salt Lake (3rd, 52 points; at Timbers, vs. Chivas USA): If they can beat the Timbers on the road, they have a very good chance of bringing home their second piece of silverware (and it would be a nice accompaniment to the 2009 MLS Cup). So far, they've done reasonably well against the Timbers, going 2-0-1 and scoring 10 goals against them in all competitions. But they needed a stoppage time equalizer after going down to 10 men in the one previous game played at Jeld-Wen Field.

New York Red Bulls (1st, 53 points; at Dynamo, vs. Fire): If you're looking for the most straightforward path, the Red Bulls own it. Thanks to a host of other results going their way in recents weeks, the Red Bulls only need to win out in order to claim their first major trophy in the franchise's 17-year existence. Their path is not easy, though. The Dynamo are on a five-game unbeaten run and the Fire are 3-1-1 in their last five.

The darkhorses

Seattle Sounders (6th, 51 points; at FC Dallas, vs. Galaxy): It was less than three weeks ago that the Sounders were the odds-on favorites to win the Shield. In fact, if not for allowing a late goal to the Red Bulls back on Sept. 29, the Sounders would still be in the pole position even after three straight losses. Now, they need a win over Dallas or for the Quakes to drop points against the Galaxy just to secure their playoff spot. And yet, winning the Shield is not out of the question if they win their final two. They'll need a tie in the Timbers-RSL match to feel as though they have any chance.

LA Galaxy (5th, 51 points; vs. Earthquakes, at Sounders): This is where the race really gets crazy, as the chances of them winning the Shield are only slightly better than their odds of missing the playoffs entirely. After beating the Impact to move to the brink of clinching a playoff spot, you'd think they were set. But the Quakes are still alive and kicking the playoff race after winning three straight and going 4-0-1 in their last five. If they fall in the California Clasico, they'll need at least a point against the Sounders to secure passage. At the same time, a win combined with some results going their way farther up the table and the Sounders game could well decide the Shield winner.

The long shots

Houston Dynamo (8th, 48 points; vs. Red Bulls, at D.C. United): Their chances are slightly better only because they actually will have some say in the standings with their game against the Red Bulls. If they can win that game, that sets up an extremely winnable season-finale against a team that may have already clinched the worst record in MLS history. Getting to 54 points would only bring the Shield in a highly unlikely series of events, starting with the Timbers-RSL game ending in a tie and the rest of the contenders claiming a bare minimum of points.

Colorado Rapids (7th, 48 points; vs. Whitecaps, at Whitecaps): In an odd twist of the schedule, the Rapids' final two games of the season are both against a team that could pass them for the final playoff spot. There's also an extremely outside chance that they could win the Shield with a pair of wins, but it requires a ton of results to go their way and they obviously don't get to play any of the other contenders.

Key games to watch

Oct. 18, Sporting KC vs. D.C. United (NBC Sports Network, 8 p.m. EST): Sporting needs to just beat the worst team in the league at home in order to keep their hopes alive.

Oct. 19, FC Dallas vs. Sounders (NBCSN, 2:30 p.m.): Sounders need an early goal to take the fight out of just-eliminated Dallas.

Oct. 19, Timbers vs. RSL (MLS Live, 10:30 p.m.): The winner could end up with the inside track to the Shield, while a tie would open up the race immensely.

Oct. 20, Dynamo vs. Red Bulls (UniMas, 4 p.m.): If the Red Bulls stumble, they will suddenly need a miracle to win the Shield.

Oct. 20, Galaxy vs. Earthquakes (ESPN, 9 p.m.): The Galaxy can boost their Shield hopes and possibly end the playoff drama with a win.

Oct. 23, RSL vs. Chivas USA (MLS Live, 9 p.m.): This is a virtual must-win for RSL regardless of the result against the Timbers.

Oct. 26, Union vs. Sporting KC (NBCSN, 3 p.m.): Assuming KC beats United, they're real test comes on the road against the Union.

Oct. 26, Chivas USA vs. Timbers (MLS Live, 10:30 p.m.): It's entirely possible that the Timbers could clinch the Shield with a win in this game.

Oct. 27, Red Bulls vs. Fire (UniMas, 5 p.m.): Even if the Red Bulls get past the Dynamo, they've still go work to do.

Oct. 27, Whitecaps vs. Rapids (MLS Live, 5 p.m.): I hesitate to list this game because of how many things need to happen for this to matter in the Shield race, but there's a decent chance that a playoff spot is at least up for grabs.

Oct. 27, Sounders vs. Galaxy (ESPN, 9 p.m.): Suffice it to say, ESPN would absolutely love it if the soccer gods turned this into a game that decides the Shield winner. It's possible, albeit unlikely, but roughly 67,000 people would well be on hand to witness it.

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