Twenty years ago today, Sporting Kansas City secured its first major title in club history by winning the Supporters’ Shield on the final day of the 2000 MLS regular season. With a come-from-behind 2-2 road draw against the Tampa Bay Mutiny at Raymond James Stadium, Sporting—then known as the Kansas City Wizards—finished level with the Chicago Fire on 57 points but owned the head-to-head tiebreaker via goal differential, thus claiming the honor bestowed to the MLS team with the best regular season record. Kansas City reached even greater heights a month later by defeating the Chicago Fire 1-0 in MLS Cup, completing a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround after going 8-24 in 1999.
On the 20th anniversary of the club’s lone Supporters’ Shield triumph to date, SportingKC.com presents an oral history of the momentous 2000 regular season finale with input from four individuals who played key roles in bringing the trophy to Kansas City two decades ago: Bob Gansler, the Wizards’ head coach at the time; Peter Vermes, a former Wizards defender and the current manager of Sporting Kansas City; Kerry Zavagnin, a former Wizards midfielder and now an assistant for the club; and Sam Pierron, a founding member of what became the Kansas City Cauldron supporters’ group who helped bring the Supporters’ Shield to life in the late 1990s.
At the beginning of every Major League Soccer campaign, clubs set out with dreams of hoisting trophies by virtue of their excellence on the pitch. Among the coveted prizes up for grabs are the MLS Cup—awarded to the winner of the MLS Cup Playoffs—and domestic cup competitions in the U.S. and Canada, namely the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Canadian Championship.
The Supporters’ Shield, belonging to the club that amasses the most regular season points, has grown in pedigree over the years and serves as a strong indicator of which team performed at the highest level, on the most consistent basis, over the course of 34 matches—or as was the case in 2000, 32 matches. The Supporters’ Shield, many argue, almost invariably goes to the league’s best team.
But much like the league with which it is associated, the Supporters’ Shield has humble beginnings. The early years of MLS, as Pierron puts it, were “highly Americanized.” Countdown clocks with stoppages in play. Shootouts to break ties at the end of games—never any draws—and traditional win-loss records akin to other professional sports leagues across the country. And most notably, a playoff system to decide the league champion following the regular season. Back then, far less importance was placed on which team finished atop the MLS regular season standings.
GANSLER: I don't think winning the Supporters’ Shield was a topic of conversation we ever had as a team in 2000. We just wanted to win as many games as possible. We wanted to keep the momentum going. We weren’t chasing a regular season trophy. We played 32 games that year in the regular season. If we finished in first place, great. If not, you got another bite at it in the playoffs.
VERMES: I don't remember us ever sitting down as a team making the Supporters’ Shield a priority. We just had an unrelenting desire to win every game we played. That was our DNA.
ZAVAGNIN: The 2000 season played out in an interesting way because we weren't necessarily guided by winning the Supporters' Shield. We wanted to prove ourselves individually and as a collective.
GANSLER: We had such a great start that year. Through our first 12 games, we had 10 wins and two ties, and so we just wanted to keep it going. I think we were an ambitious group because there was definitely some frustration amongst the individuals. You had Tony Meola, Peter Vermes, Preki, Mo Johnston—some big names that hadn’t quite achieved as much as I’m sure they would have liked going into that season. Life is not always fair, and soccer had not always been fair to them. I was driven by that a little bit, but more importantly, the players were very driven by it. You had a team of guys who were extremely motivated to succeed.
Interestingly enough, the Supporters’ Shield did not exist until the end of 1998, three years into the league’s existence. The trophy’s origins can be traced to the aspiring work of Pierron and representatives from other club supporters’ groups across MLS.
Pierron has penned an in-depth history of the Supporters’ Shield that lives at SupportersShield.org, but to make an inspiring and beautifully detailed story short—Pierron’s tale is well worth the read—the Shield was created by a committee of supporters representing each MLS club.
With the help of monetary donations from individuals such as former MLS commissioner Doug Logan and soccer broadcaster Phil Schoen, the original Supporters’ Shield was crafted out of sterling silver sheet metal and first presented to a group of LA Galaxy supporters in 1999 after the Galaxy posted the best regular season record. Instead of being awarded to the club and its players, the Supporters’ Shield was passed from one supporters’ group to another, depending on which team finished atop the league table. The Shield winners from 1996-1998 were retroactively recognized for their accomplishment.
PIERRON: For us fans, the Supporters’ Shield was our way of saying two things. First, it was a thank you to the league and each of the clubs. But secondly, it was us saying, “Hey, the regular season means something, too.” It’s the best indicator of who performed the best over the course of 30 or 32 or 34 games.
At the time, the Supporters’ Shield was more just something that supporters’ groups could hang their hat on. It wasn’t like today where the Shield is one of the competitions you set out to win at the start of the season. Even when we finished at the top of the standings in 2000, the only T-shirt that was made for that accomplishment was us finishing first in the Western Division.
Goalkeeper Tony Meola celebrates the Wizards' 2-2 comeback draw against Tampa Bay on the final day of the 2000 regular season. Meola made four saves in the match and went on to win 2000 MLS MVP honors.
Despite the fact that the Supporters’ Shield had yet to catch on as major honor in 2000, Kansas City’s fateful descent on the title was entrenched in drama. As the calendar turned to September, and with just nine days left in the regular season, the Wizards trailed the Tampa Bay Mutiny by a single point in the standings. Kansas City would defeat Tampa Bay 1-0 on Sept. 2 at Arrowhead Stadium and win at New England on Sept. 6 by the same scoreline, with legendary striker Miklos Molnar scoring both goals.
Heading into the final day of the regular season on Sept. 9, Kansas City faced a return trip to Tampa Bay. The Mutiny were now out of Supporters’ Shield contention, while the Chicago Fire trailed the Wizards by two points heading into their finale at the Columbus Crew.
Kansas City’s match kicked off at 7 p.m. ET in Florida, 30 minutes before Chicago and Columbus kicked off in Ohio. A victory would guarantee the Wizards the Supporters’ Shield, while a draw would open the door for Chicago to move level on points and even win the Shield with a three-goal triumph in Columbus.
GANSLER: Tampa Bay was more than a competent opponent. In Carlos Valderrama you had a top assist guy, and in Mamadou Diallo you had the league’s top goal scorer. From our perspective—and maybe other people thought the same way—they were an arrogant bunch. We had beaten them one week earlier at home and our objective going down to Tampa was getting a positive result. It wasn’t about clinching first place in the league. We knew that if we got a result, we would have home field advantage in the playoffs until MLS Cup.
ZAVAGNIN: Tampa Bay’s cast of characters was pretty impressive. Carlos Valderrama, Mamadou Diallo, Steve Ralston. Technically they were fantastic—a strong, powerful team that had a ton of ability. Valderrama would run the show—one of the most difficult players I’ve ever faced in the league.
VERMES: At the time, I think it was dependent on the person, but I can tell you—for me, finishing first place in the league mattered a whole lot. As a player, I always thought there was a huge, huge importance to that. It also helped us with homefield advantage in the playoffs. Obviously everyone looked at the MLS Cup as being the equivalent of the Super Bowl, and they still do to this day, but winning the regular season would have been huge for us.
ZAVAGNIN: When you get to that point of the season—and I've had that same experience with a few of the teams here in Kansas City—in some ways the game feels like a final. We know the playoffs are ahead of us, obviously, but the ability to play for the Supporters’ Shield on the final day of the season is a major opportunity. Back then, of course, it was a bit different. The Supporters’ Shield wasn’t top-of-mind, but all of the guys had a sense that we were on the cusp of something incredible, especially after turning things around from 1999 when the team finished last in the conference. We had the chance to basically go from bottom dweller to the top of the mountain.
PIERRON: I remember that night very well. I was with four or five of my buddies in a rental house at the time and we obviously had the game on TV. To think that our team was this close to winning a trophy we helped create—that was pretty exciting. It probably meant more to us than it meant to anyone else.
GANSLER: All season long, we felt we were judged a little bit too lightly. No one ever took us seriously. It was always, “Yeah, but.” We started with 10 wins and two ties. Yeah, but. We had the best defensive record in the league. Yeah, but. We had the most points over the course of a 32-game season. Yeah, but. If you looked at the Tampa Bay roster that year, that’s what they had—impressive individuals. We had a strong, resilient collection of players that gelled and, in many ways, maximized its potential.
VERMES: Mamadou Diallo was on a tear that year. He had 26 goals and was going for the league scoring record. Bob was really big into not letting him equal that record of 27 goals against us. I loved that mindset and we made it a priority of ours to shut him down, for sure.
GANSLER: One of our biggest tasks was slowing down Diallo. We didn’t want him to break the league scoring record. At the time, we played with a sweeper and a couple of man-marking defenders. Peter Vermes was the Defender of the Year and commanded our backline in that sweeper role. He had two good markers on either side of him in Brandon Prideaux and Nick Garcia. Peter orchestrated that extremely well, and we know what Tony Meola was capable of as a goalkeeper—16 shutouts in the regular season and 21 total if you include playoffs.
Tampa also had a magician named Valderrama who knew how to make the killer pass. And it wasn’t a one touch and killer pass. His first touch of the ball would be the killer pass. So you had to put pressure on him so that he couldn’t hit penetrating passes. Prideaux and Garcia were both conscientious in their marketing assignments, and of course Peter was always there to pick up the change. Then it was up to our midfield to hold guys like Valderrama and Steve Ralston in check.
The game began ominously for Kansas City, as Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead behind Eric Quill’s first-half brace. Three minutes before halftime, the Wizards grabbed a goal back through Chris Henderson on an assist from Vermes.
GANSLER: Tampa went up 2-0, and as I said, they were an arrogant bunch. There weren’t too many people on that team who we would want to invite to our post-game party.
VERMES: All season long, we knew we could win if we got the first goal because we had an unrelenting appetite to defend. This game was a bit different because we actually conceded two early goals, so we had plenty of work to do. It was a tremendous response by us to get a result in that game, but that was the type of character we had as a team.
ZAVAGNIN: Going down there for the regular season finale, I knew we would probably have to rely on our defensive stoutness. It was our third game in a week. Falling behind 2-0 obviously changed the complexion of the game a bit, but the fightback was massive.
GANSLER: Chris Henderson was just one of those players that maximized his potential. He could get a shot off, he could deliver the final pass, he could play through the lines, he could track back and defend. That goal to make it 2-1 helped us steady the ship before halftime.
ZAVAGNIN: Chris had an unrelenting work ethic. He had a high-capacity work rate and had the ability to run at well. He combined well with others in attack and was just relentless, regardless of whether the team was having a good game or a bad game. He never stopped working. I think it’s only fitting that Chris kickstarted our comeback in that game, because he had that unrelenting, never-say-die approach.
VERMES: Chris Henderson and Chris Klein were our two wide midfielders. They were absolutely relentless in going at you. I just don't think that many guys could match them physically over the course of 90 minutes. They annihilated other teams down the right and left sides, just by their sheer fitness levels and being able to go box to box all game long. That was a big part of who we were—just being able annihilate teams physically and defend like a son of a (gun).
While the Wizards trailed 2-1 at halftime, Chicago raced out to a 2-0 lead by the 26th minute in Columbus. If results held, the Fire would win the Supporters’ Shield by a one-point margin.
In the 66th minute, however, Kansas City would equalize on a goal from Molnar, the Danish-born forward who bagged eight goals in the final 10 games of the 2000 campaign, including five in the playoffs and the lone goal of MLS Cup 2000 in a 1-0 defeat of the Chicago Fire. Vermes also notched his second assist of the night, marking the first and only multi-assist game of his seven-year MLS playing career.
VERMES: Miklos was a sniper. I mean, he was just a pure goal scorer who knew how to find the net. He had an incredible nose for the goal.
ZAVAGNIN: Technically, Miklos might not have been a top-tier player. But in terms of finishing chances and taking his opportunities to score, he was excellent and exactly what the team needed. We had tons of guys who worked their tails off, a few guys who could create and certainly some guys who could defend. But to find that right combination, you needed a lethal goal scorer. And Miklos could put the ball in the back of the net.
GANSLER: Miklos would always score important goals in important games. Really, he would score just about every game. That was just something that his ego demanded of him. When we signed him, he had been with something like 10 teams in 12 years. Now that tells you something, right? He's a man of considerable talent, but he’s also a man who maybe has trouble endearing himself and sticking around in any one place. But the beauty about Miklos and us was the fact that he got along with everyone on and off the field.
Miklos Molnar scored a second-half equalizer in the 2-2 draw at Tampa Bay, helping the Wizards secure the Supporters' Shield. He finished the year with a team-best 17 goals, including five in the playoffs and the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire in MLS Cup 2000.
Kansas City emerged with a 2-2 draw and ended the regular season on 57 points, which meant Chicago needed to beat Columbus by at least three goals in order to deny the Wizards the Supporters’ Shield.
Wizards PR officer Rob Thomson provided Chicago-Columbus score updates from the Raymond James Stadium locker room as the match unfolded in thrilling fashion. The Fire would prevail by a 3-2 scoreline, but Kansas City had clinched the Supporters’ Shield with a plus-two advantage over Chicago in goal differential.
GANSLER: Look, I'm foreign born and I have followed the sport in other parts of the world. I know how it works elsewhere in terms of promotion and relegation and a single table and no playoffs. So yes, finishing at the top of the league was important for me.
ZAVAGNIN: It wasn't like the Supporter’s Shield was this big, coveted trophy. So, as you might imagine, we were actually pleased to come out of that game with a result, having been down 2-0 and playing our third game in a week. We had finished first in the West. We had homefield advantage until MLS Cup, which would be played in Washington, D.C. So we had accomplished just about everything in our minds. Edging Chicago for first place in the league just seemed like a cherry on top at the time.
VERMES: Finishing first in the league gave us a lift going into the playoffs, for sure. There’s a certain level of confidence you get when you win a trophy. You get more swagger—another notch in in your belt—and it makes you stronger mentally. It makes you believe. All of that helps the team in the biggest moments come playoff time.
PIERRON: We watched our game finish out 2-2 and then we listened to the final half hour of Chicago vs. Columbus by internet radio. And when that game finished, we lost it. We ran around the house, jumped around—absolutely screaming. I can tell you, there was probably no one else out on the streets of Kansas City celebrating that night.
After the match, Wizards head coach Bob Gansler told the Kansas City Star, "We've had a great season, but the only thing better than being great is being the best."
Later that evening in the hotel lobby, Molnar—completely unaware of the MLS playoff system as a longtime player in Europe—announced his retirement. He was ready to go out as a league champion.
ZAVAGNIN: I remember gathering in the hotel lobby when we got back from the stadium. Miklos was so excited that we had won the league and he really had no concept of the playoffs. He had always played in a European league where there was no playoff system. Once we explained it to him, he said, “OK then, let’s go for the double.” It was a funny situation because in his mind, all of the value was placed on the regular season the entire time.
GANSLER: The fact that Miklos planned to retire was made known to us coaches quite quickly after the game. I remember having a conversation with him and pardon my French, but he pretty much said, “What the (expletive) is this? There’s playoffs?” And so I said, “Well, in America we do some things differently here.” And he said, “OK, let’s do the double then.”
VERMES: Clearly, Miklos didn't fully understand how things were in MLS. But what I would say is that winning the league was an incredible achievement because it pointed to the fact that we were the most consistent team that season.
ZAVAGNIN: We had a special collection of players and lot of experience, as well as a coach that had the same motivation as the players in wanting to prove himself. That’s what motivated us throughout the year. We were built on resilience and determination. And I think the final week of the regular season was a great example of that—being able to take seven points from those final three games.
Certainly, it was nice to win a trophy going into the playoffs. I've always believed that when you crown a champion in MLS, the team that wins the Supporters’ Shield can claim to be the best because they showed excellence and consistency over a long period of time. It’s not just about going on a run in the playoffs.
PIERRON: There was an annual event in MLS at the time called the Supporters’ Summit. There were lots of meetings attached to it, but this was also the event where the Supporters’ Shield was passed from one supporters’ group to the next, depending on the club that won the trophy. Shortly after the 2000 season ended, a few of us from Kansas City were presented with it at the Supporters’ Summit. In addition to that, we got to be a part of the MLS awards gala that took place the day before MLS Cup in Washington, D.C. My friend Mike and I got to present the Shield to Bob Gansler less than 24 hours before we won MLS Cup.
VERMES: I remember Sam Pierron presenting us the Supporters’ Shield at the awards gala the night before MLS Cup in Washington D.C. He was one of the big supporters of the club and helped make the Supporters’ Shield a real thing.
Twenty years later, the Supporters’ Shield has grown substantially in terms of importance and awareness. Nowadays, the winning team enjoys a formal trophy celebration on Decision Day, the final day of the regular season, and earns a berth in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. It is consistently discussed in the same class as the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup as one of the major championships available to win.
PIERRON: To see the Supporters’ Shield increase in relevance over time, it’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy to think about. At the end of the day, this is what we wanted as supporters. This is how we imagined it.
VERMES: Honestly, I viewed the Supporters’ Shield back then the same way I do it today. It’s a tremendous honor and a huge achievement that only the most consistent team can claim. If you look at all of the other leagues in the world, they crown their champions at the end of the season. For us, it’s the regular season. It should be every team’s objective to win that honor at the end of the regular season.
ZAVAGNIN: In the present day, we view the Supporters’ Shield with far greater esteem. And we certainly know how difficult it is to win. And like all of the championships we have won over the years—the MLS Cups and the Open Cups—the Supporters’ Shield from 2000 brings you memories of all the great moments that led up to the title. You think about the season opener against Chicago in which we won 4-3. You think about the shutout streaks and the way we started the season. You think about that final game against Tampa Bay. You think about the adversity we faced in the summer months were results were hard to come by. And to be able to overcome that adversity and hardship and, over the course of the entire season, finish at the top of the league—that was a tremendous testament to our character and mentality as a group.
PIERRON: The Supporters’ Shield is the ultimate physical representation of what supporters can do when they work together. It shows that fans can do more than build a culture and support a club. You can actually affect real change in the way the league operates. In the connection between the league and the supporters, sometimes MLS takes the lead. Sometimes the supporters take the lead. The Shield shows that supporters are willing and ready to contribute in a real, authentic, beautiful way. And we see that today in the competitive structure of the league.