Welcome back to another edition of Infrequently Asked Questions, or iFAQ for you millennials. This will be the third installment, following Episode 1 and Episode 2. If you're like me and you're too lazy to click on links to read three stories but instead want to read the best one ever, well I can't pick for you. That'd be like choosing which one of your children is your favorite (hint: it's always the youngest one).
But the playoffs are upon us! Aren't you excited? I know I am. So sit back, loosen your belt, and enjoy.
Q. Hooray, playoffs! Everybody loves playoffs. Are you excited?
A. Not entirely. I get the allure of playoffs, but I never understood the appeal of using a long enough season to determine which teams should qualify to see who the champion is and then use small-sample-size series to make that determination, when the long enough season was long enough to properly identify who should be the champion. It's how you get teams limping into the playoffs just to be crowned ultimate champions.
Q. Like the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL?
Q. So how do the playoffs work exactly?
A. MLS is split between two conferences, the East and the West. The top five teams in each of those conferences get seeded 1 through 5. Teams 4 & 5 from each conference play each other in a win or go home matchup. From there, you're into the Conference Semifinals, which is a home and away series. Seed #1 plays the winner of the 4/5 matchup, while seeds 2 & 3 face off. The winners from each two-legged matchup moves on to face the other in the Conference Finals. The team with the better seed always travels away for the first game in the series and plays the second game at home. At the end of the Conference Finals, the team that emerges from the East and the West face off in the one-game MLS Cup Final to determine the champion. The team who finished the regular season with the most points will host that match.
Q. Sounds complicated.
A. That's a statement, not a question.
Q. Oh. Uh, isn't that needlessly complicated?
A. It is and it isn't. They're constantly refining it every year.
Q. What did they refine in the playoffs this year?
A. They instituted the Away Goals rule.
Q. The Away Goals rule? What's that?
A. It puts added emphasis on goals that away teams score. It only comes into play as a tie-breaker if after the two 90 minute games are played and the score is tied. Were that to happen, whichever team scored the most away goals would win.
Q. But what if they both scored the same amount of away goals?
A. Well then it goes into those two 15 minute extra time halves.
Q. You mean the Golden Goal time?
A. Yes and no. Yes, it's like the Golden Goal time, in that after the two games of 90 minutes, if it's still tied, the teams play an additional 30 minutes split into two 15-minute halves. But it's not like the Golden Goal time because the Golden Goal doesn't exist anymore. It's not sudden-death.
Q. So if a team scores a goal in that extra time, the game doesn't automatically end?
A. No, the remainder of the 30 minutes are played out.
Q. What if they're still tied after that?
A. That's when you get penalty kicks.
Q. Penalty kicks are the best, aren't they?
Q. Oh. So what about red cards and yellow card accumulations?
A. Red cards act the same. If you get one, you're automatically suspended for the next match. But with yellow cards, if you get two in the playoffs, you're suspended for the next match.
Q. So the yellow card counter starts fresh at zero for everyone?
A. Yes. The only yellow cards that matter are the ones that are earned in the playoffs.
Q. What if a player gets two yellow cards in one game, earning a red card? Does he get suspended two games, one for the resulting red card and one for getting two yellow cards?
A. No, in that case it'd just be defaulted into a red card which is a one-game suspension.
Q. What if a player already had a yellow card from a previous game and got two more in a match? Would that then be a two-game suspension?
A. I honestly don't know. I think it would be.
Q. What if a player receives his second yellow card in the last game of the Conference Finals, would he then be suspended for the MLS Cup Final?
A. No, the only way a player would be suspended for the finals is if they earned a red card.
Q. So who's going to win the playoffs this season?
Q. Really? Wow. How many trophies is that exactly?
A. Two, the US Open Cup and the Supporter's Shield.
Q. Is it an actual cup and an actual shield?
A. No, the cup is a trophy and the shield looks like a big serving plate.
Q. So then why did you call them trophies earlier?
A. Because colloquially they're all grouped together as trophies, even though nomenclature might call them something individually different.
Q. Do each of the players get a trophy for being on the winning team?
A. No, they are each awarded a medal instead.
Q. Geez, soccer sure does like giving away trophies and stuff, don't they?
A. Unlike other professional sports, there are lots of separate tournaments that teams can qualify for throughout a season. Each one of these tournaments comes with its own hardware.
Q. Hardware? Like hammers and screwdrivers?
A. Sorry, trophies; hardware like trophies.
Q. Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense. You mentioned something about seeds earlier. Which teams are what seeds?
A. In the West: 1 - Seattle Sounders, 2 - LA Galaxy, 3 - Real Salt Lake, 4 - FC Dallas, 5 - Vancouver Whitecaps. Dallas and Vancouver have already played their 4 & 5 matchup, and Dallas won 2-1, so now they'll face Seattle in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In the East: 1 - DC United, 2 - New England Revolution, 3 - Columbus Crew, 4 - New York Red Bulls, 5 - Sporting Kansas City. New York and KC face off on Thursday to determine who plays DC United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Q. Information overload right there.
A. That's not a question.
Q. Oh right. Wait, where are the Portland Timbers?
A. That's a good joke!
Q. So if the Seattle Sounders win the MLS Cup, do they get to combine their three trophies into a Mega-Super Cup?
A. What?! No, they get one trophy for each that they can display.
Q. So are those three trophies the only ones MLS teams can win?
A. Well, no, not necessarily. There is the CONCACAF Champions League, which only certain MLS teams qualify, and if you win that, you qualify for the Club World Cup.
Q. That sounds intense. Are the Sounders going to win those trophies this year too?
A. Well, no, they didn't play in the CCL this season, but by winning the US Open Cup and by winning the Supporter's Shield they qualify for next season's CCL tournament.
Q. So when are the Sounders playoff games?
A. The Sounders first play on Sunday in Dallas at 6pm PST. That'll be on ESPN2. Then they'll play Monday November 10th in Seattle at 7:30pm on NBCSN. If they win against Dallas they'll face the winner of RSL and LA Galaxy on either the 22nd or 23rd of November on the road and November 29th and 30th at home. If they win that, the MLS Cup Final will be in Seattle December 7th at 12pm PST on ESPN.
Q. Wait, they already know the Sounders will host the final?
A. Yes, the Sounders had the most points, which guarantees that if they make the finals, they'll host it in Seattle.
Q. How did they get all those points?
A. It's how MLS and soccer in general is different from other sports. Because there are ties, they assign points for a win (3), points for a loss (0), and points for a draw (1). Seattle earned the most points this season, with 64.
Q. Oh, right. I forgot soccer is different like that.
A. That's not a question.
A. That still isn't a question.
Q. I know, I know. So are there any catchphrases that the Sounders are using for this postseason that I should know about?
A. There is #goodplayoffkarma and #hellagreedy and Hail Hydra.
Q. #goodplayoffkarma and #hellagreedy are Twitter things, right? What do they mean?
A. Due to Seattle's well-known struggles in the playoffs in the past, Seattle started this initiative to earn some good karma going forward. You can track their deeds here. #hellagreedy means that we want all the trophies. We won't share.
Q. Hmm, and Hail Hydra?
A. Hail Hydra.
Q. Hail Hydra?
A. Hail Hydra!