That's an interesting distinction from DC United president Kevin Payne, who I interviewed by phone yesterday.
I was trying to get his opinion on which is a better indication of club success in the U.S. and Canada: MLS Cups or total trophy case. (Here's the story that resulted from that interview. (He was more critical about Open Cup in this Washington Times story, suggesting the the Cup needs to improve or consider packing it in.)
Payne also added that Supporters Shields should be in the running, although he settled on total trophy case ... with the provision that we're not including the "phony" trophies. By that, he means one kind of trophy that the Sounders have already played for and failed to win: the Heritage Cup, which goes to the winner of head-to-head games involving MLS clubs using their historic NASL nicknames: for now just the Sounders and the San Jose Earthquakes. DC has something similar with the New York Red Bulls: The Atlantic Cup.
Anyway, I know that Payne has gotten a little sideways with the Sounders organization and its fans for the bump he had with Adrian Hanauer about the Open Cup brackets and game sites. However, I've found him one of the more interesting MLS executives in the couple of times I've interviewed him.
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So here's a little more about what he had to say about trophies:
On U.S. Open Cup: Open Cup has always been a big deal to me personally. For many years it was really the only national championship or highest-level national championship – particularly in the years when there was no full-blown professional league like there is now. … But I also think it's a unique format – it's something that is unique to soccer. I don't think the format has done enough to turn it into a real property. There's no reason why it can't be a very significant competition. I'm not saying it's going to approach the FA Cup in England, but it should be a bigger deal here than it is. We've always taken it seriously. Anytime we have a chance to win a trophy, we want to do that. It's part of the way you keep score.
On judging club success: I think it's total trophy case ... with real trophies. We certainly have a lot of phony trophies: friendly games and things of that nature, our Atlantic Cup competition with New York. My guess is you'll end up with some kind of a three-way competition with Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, maybe a Northwest Cup that the fans will create. ((At this point I informed him about Heritage Cup.)) Those things are great, but obviously they don't rise to the levels of the competitions that everybody's in. MLS Cup, I guess, is probably the most important; although I really believe that in many ways the Supporters Shied is the real indicator of who's the best team in a given year. The format of the MLS Cup allows for some anomalies."
I think his bottom line is pretty correct. Heritage Cup and any future Cascade-Cup-type stuff is fun. But tomorrow's game is for real: A very big day in the young history of the organization.