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Shield Watch: LAFC have let 2 rivals back into race

They still lead, but it’s not yet decided.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Austin FC Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC are in their first real plunge of the 2022 season, having lost two road games in a row the past two weeks. Maybe they need that home cooking, maybe they are getting tired as a long season reaches its apex, and maybe the players coming in and going out are threatening the team’s chemistry.

All of that remains to be seen, but with seven games left in the regular season, it’s time to look at LAFC’s spot in the Supporters’ Shield race and the competition as we reach the final weeks:

1st: LAFC (57 points on 27 games)

The good news is LAFC remain in the lead in the Shield race, even after losing back-to-back games. They’re currently the only team to be averaging more than two points per game across the regular season, and aside from a disappointing result to San Jose and then a flat-out embarrassment last week in Austin, they’ve largely looked like one of the best teams in history. Don’t overreact.

That’s all true, and yet this week does appear to be a tipping point in LAFC’s Shield prospects. They still hold the upper hand, on a couple levels, with the teams approaching, with points being the most important one. Importantly, LAFC control their destiny at this point and if they can win out or at least drop fewer points than the teams on their heels, they’ll raise their second Shield come season’s end.

But the distance has receded quickly.

2nd: Philadelphia Union (54 points on 28 games)

The big development is the Union have been slowly gaining ground on LAFC, and with the black-and-gold dropping back-to-back games, the Union are a mere gameweek away from getting level on points with LAFC. And with Philly’s white-hot scoring run lately, where they’ve had four wins by six or more goals since July 8, they are way ahead of LAFC in goal difference, if the teams ended up level on points and the first tiebreak, the Union could take the Shield that way.

But we’re a way out from that scenario just yet. Crucially, LAFC have a game in hand, so if they win that, a tight three-point margin becomes six points, which is still close but a bit more breathing room. Additionally, the first tiebreaker for the Shield is “total number of wins per match” which sounds like nonsense but came into existence during the pandemic when some games had to be cancelled. Basically, at this point LAFC hold that edge, with LAFC’s 18 total wins in league play to Philadelphia’s 15, so if they can win four more games, they should take that tiebreaker for good. However, they should win more than four games, because Philly could still pip them on points, and that would be pretty bad!

3rd: Austin FC (51 points on 27 games)

Austin could still come calling, too, because they are just three points behind Philly with a game in hand. So if they win their game in hand, they will also be on 54 points through 28 games. They would also move ahead of Philly at that point on the first tiebreaker, although again, there’s several more games beyond that to still be played.

So LAFC don’t have a game in hand on Austin, but they currently have a six-point lead. LAFC have to take care of business so Austin don’t overcome that six-point deficit in the final games. And when it comes to the second tiebreaker, which is goal differential per match, the teams are pretty close, with LAFC +26 in total goals difference to Austin’s +22. On the bright side, head to head record doesn’t factor in the Shield race, or LAFC would have lost that.

***

So, seven more games for LAFC, and the Shield is in their hands at this stage, as long as they don’t fumble it. This week is crucial as it’s a double-game week, first facing the Houston Dynamo in Texas on Wednesday, before returning to The Banc to host Real Salt Lake on Sunday. A six-point week would look mighty good around these parts, and regardless of what the Union or Austin do this week, would keep the competition at bay for the time being. Here’s hoping the tightening of the race inspires a little more sharpness from LAFC as they look to clinch that first piece of silverware in 2022.

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