NOTE: I hope you enjoy this.

Minnesota United has been on the lookout for veteran talent for the entire 2014 offseason, so perhaps it was inevitable that eventually, they would turn the looking glass inward. Tuesday, the club announced that head coach Manny Lagos would return to a playing role in 2014, becoming the NASL’s first player-coach of the modern era.

Since taking over as Minnesota’s head coach, Lagos has often been frustrated at his inability to find players to live up to the standard that he set during a career that spanned five different MLS teams. His 170 MLS appearances, and three for the national team, immediately vault him to the top of the experience list for United; perhaps only Aaron Pitchkolan, who turned out for Dallas and Colorado 77 times, can rival his coach and now-colleague’s experience.

In 2013, Lagos had to participate in training as a player fairly regularly , given the rash of injuries that hit the club during the first half of the season. Perhaps it was those sessions that convinced Lagos that, with a proper off-season preparation, he still had what it took to play at the top level.

The move is just the latest in a swarm of veterans that have taken over Minnesota in the offseason. New signing Daniel Mendes is 33 already, and off-season signings Juliano Vicentini, Omar Daley, and Tiago Calvano will all turn 33 during the season. Lagos, at 42, will be the senior player for Minnesota.

Assistant coach Carl Craig will likely take over match-day responsibilities from the sideline, at least while Lagos is on the field.

Lagos, who last saw the field in Minnesota in 1996 as part of the old Thunder, will likely slot in near the front of the United attack – perhaps at the top of a midfield triangle. At six feet tall, the veteran coach and player might also work as a target forward, should Christian Ramirez go down or disappoint in that role.

“I’m very excited to be able to play in Minnesota once again,” said Lagos in a press release. He was unavailable for comment, in either a playing or a coaching role.

The move opens the door for Atlanta Silverbacks coach Eric Wynalda, at 44 only two years Lagos’s senior, to make a similar return to the playing field. Wynalda, who famously will be with Atlanta only part-time this year, boasts an even more impressive playing resume, with 107 caps and 34 goals for the national team to his credit.

The team released a video interview with Lagos:

This week on the podcast, noted baseball expert Nick Nelson joined us. Later, we did a Twitter mailbag, because all the cool kids do.

Ireland are your 2014 Six Nations Champions, capping their campaign with a dramatic win against France to clinch the title on the final weekend. As is traditional, the final round included all six teams playing in back-to-back-to-back matches. Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis showed all three, beginning at 7:30 in the morning.

My brother Dave is not a fan of rugby, but he does enjoy activities that consist of watching sports and drinking beer, so he agreed to come with me to watch the final day of matches. We skipped the early-morning beatdown that England put on Italy, but we did see Wales wax Scotland and Ireland’s victory.

Here now, I present the rules of rugby, as interpreted by Dave, who has watched about three rugby matches in his life.

  1. SMASH
  2. You can kick it but I am not sure why you would
  3. You get to keep the ball when you are tackled, except sometimes not?
  4. Wild dives across the pile are illegal and strongly encouraged
  5. Field goals are everyone’s favorite
  6. The ref awards penalties but nobody ever knows why

I’d like to thank Dave for stopping by.

More than a few Americans joined me in taking Thursday and Friday of last week off, mostly to lounge in front of the TV, watching college hoops. If you’re like us, you’re going to be doing the same thing today and tomorrow; I don’t need to tell you how to find those games, since you already have the channels memorized.

If you finally get tired of hoops, though, here’s what else to check out this weekend:

Noon: Twins vs. Yankees (FSN Plus and MLB Network). Kevin Correia starts for the Twins, Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees. I feel strongly that Tanaka needs to start going by one single name, like Ronaldo used to in soccer. Kevin Correia could also do this, too, but should you start suggesting names in the comments, I guarantee that those comments will get deleted.

1pm: Detroit at Wild (FSN). I have always enjoyed a matinee hockey game; there’s something truly delightful about getting your hockey fix and then walking outside and finding out that you still have eight or nine hours left over for activities.

9pm: Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks, in Australia (MLB Network). It’s regular-season baseball, which we enjoy, as long as we ignore this game being played on the other side of the world and more than a week before the rest of the regular-season games begin.

6:30pm Sunday: Wild at Detroit (NBCSN). It’s pretty rare that you see two NHL teams playing a home-and-home weekend series, but that’s exactly what’s happening for Minnesota and the Red Wings this weekend. No doubt NBC Sports is hoping for a couple of brawls this afternoon that carry over into some bad blood for Sunday night’s game.

What to read this weekend

Joe Posnanski explored the legend of Louis Sockalexis, and the origin of the name “Cleveland Indians,” and whether the team was named to honor one of the great lost ballplayers, or just an early-20th-century racist caricature.

Also, Joe Prince-Wright of NBC Sports looked at Minnesota United’s preseason trip to the UK, and why our local soccer team traveled across the pond just for practice.

This appeared at RandBall.

Minnesota United received confirmation of one of their worst fears on Friday, as tests revealed that star striker Pablo Campos has a torn ACL and MCL.

Campos was injured in United’s match against Pro Player Academy in the UK. At the time, SoccerCentric correspondent Paul Duncan reported, “The only downside to what ended up being a nice workout was an injury to Campos, who needed treatment after tangling legs with a defender and falling awkwardly.”

“An MRI has confirmed that Pablo has torn both his ACL and MCL and will require surgical treatment,” said United team physician, Dr. Corey Wulf of Twin Cities Orthopedics, in a press release.

The 31-year-old Brazilian scored 13 goals for United last year, good for second in the NASL. Minnesota had been counting on him to continue in his role as the most effective part of a sometimes-struggling attack.

The injury means that more pressure will likely fall on the shoulders of off-season signing Christian Ramirez. The former NAIA All-American scored eight times in 23 appearances for Charlotte in the third-division USL Pro last year. United may also return to the market for another striker – perhaps immediately, given that Ramirez and Nate Polak are the only real forwards on the Minnesota roster.

Minnesota sports fans are starting to get used to knee injuries of this type. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL in December 2011, and while Peterson famously returned for the beginning of the 2012 season and earned an MVP award, it would appear that recovery times of a year or more are far more common for other athletes. For example, superstar Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose had surgery in May 2012, and couldn’t return until the beginning of the 2013 season, more than a year later.

That said, United’s press release claims that Campos may be able to return for the fall season, so perhaps only time can tell on this injury.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

This week’s podcast had no point. Eventually I ended up yelling at Clarence about college hockey and newspapers. I can’t say it was my finest hour.

United posted photos of the team sheets on Twitter for the Matlock Town and Derby County games on their UK trip, and though the lineup shifted dramatically between the two matches, the formation did not. In both games, Minnesota deployed a 4-2-3-1, with one central striker and two defensive midfielders.

It’s a formation that – with its five midfielders – plays to Minnesota’s numerical strength. United have a large pile of midfielders, especially defensive midfielders; the team probably has five or six players who could ably play in front of the back four and work to stop the other team’s attacking midfield. Juliano Vicentini, Aaron Pitchkolan, and Kentaro Takada all got starts there on this trip, but a number of other players – Michael Reed, Floyd Franks, etc. – could also fill that role.

Up front, the formation also fits the personnel, as well. The team added Christian Ramirez in the off-season, who looks like he may play a large role for United, but is otherwise without another proven striker to complement Pablo Campos up front. The team struggled last year to find that “second” striker, as second-half signing Mike Ambersley struggled mightily; perhaps playing Campos or Ramirez centrally will be the solution.

Another benefit of the formation is that the two outside midfielders aren’t restricted to playing strictly as “wingers,” like they traditionally do in a 4-4-2. United has four candidates for the outside-midfield role – Miguel Ibarra, Jamie Watson, Omar Daley and Simone Bracalello, and all four play best when they have the freedom to both run the wing and cut inside.

That said, the worry with those outside midfielders is whether they can also track back and play defense, or whether they’ll leave the two defensive midfielders alone to try to cover the entire width of the field defensively. United fan Matt Kauko posted a few other links about the 4-2-3-1 on his blog, and they make for interesting reading – especially the ones that cover how speed on the wings can utterly defeat the formation. (The one saving grace is that speed is one of the hardest qualities to come by in the NASL.)

United also has to worry about finding the attacking central midfielder to make this formation work. Without some creativity from that position, and some ability going forward, the defense tends to be able to collapse on the single striker. The central midfielder might be more instrumental than any other player in creating space for the other attackers – but who can fill that spot for Minnesota?

Of course, this discussion could be entirely moot come April 12, when United could come out in an uber-traditional 4-4-2. And head coach Manny Lagos has always put more emphasis on movement, passing and hard work than he has on how players line up. So perhaps the discussion of formations is entirely academic.

Other friendlies – but unconfirmed

A few eagle-eyed fans have spotted details of potential home preseason friendlies. Creighton University lists a friendly against United this Sunday, March 23, while the University of Nebraska-Omaha has a game listed for Saturday, April 5. Both are scheduled at the National Sports Center – though with the week’s weather forecast, the March 23 game in particular appears to be extremely unlikely to take place, at least outside.

Last year, United played a preseason scrimmage at Augsburg in their “soccer dome,” against Bridges FC; with the matches still unconfirmed, of course, there is also no word on whether they might be moved indoors, to Augsburg’s facility or anywhere else.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall.

Every so often, we get a weekend that lines up perfectly for you to spend the entire thing inside, watching sports. This is one of them. Let me take you through it, in the form of a question for every event.

3:30pm: Toronto at Seattle, NBCSN. The MLS game of the week – featuring American stars like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – is just the culmination of a day’s worth of soccer on NBC Sports Network, following up three Premier League games, beginning at 7:40 am (Man City-Hull, then Sunderland-Crystal Palace, then Chelsea-Aston Villa). The thing is, there’s just an enormous number of choices all day today – high school basketball championships, college basketball conference championships, even the NHL (Pittsburgh-Philadelphia at noon on the NHL network, for example). Pick anything – but why not pick some soccer?

7pm: Wild vs. Columbus, FSN. It’s the playoff race, and every game is absurdly important, doubly so for home games against the Blue Jackets. Can the Wild prove that their three-game swoon last week is a thing of the past – and close their grip on a playoff berth?

8pm: Hopkins vs. Lakeville North, Channel 45. There are a few prep teams – St. Thomas Academy in hockey and De La Salle in football spring immediately to mind – that the public seems to have a certain emnity for. Hopkins hoops is certainly on that list, as well. But will the Royals win state yet again?

1am tonight: Australian Grand Prix, NBCSN. It’s the first race of the Formula One season, and while Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing have won four straight titles, an entirely new engine and set of regulations have them scrambling to actually complete laps in testing so far in 2014. Can Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes vault ahead of them – or can Ferrari return to dominance with Fernando Alonso and the entertaingly-grumpy Kimi Raikonnen on board?

8:25am Sunday: Manchester United vs. Liverpool, NBCSN. United are out of the running for everything this year, but can still play spoiler for teams like Liverpool who are still in the race. Can ManU disrupt their old rivals?

10:55am Sunday: Tottenham vs. Arsenal, NBCSN. Arsenal fight to stay in the title race, Tottenham fight to stay in touch for a possible Champions League berth. Which of the bitter North London rivals will come out of White Hart Lane happy?

12pm Sunday: Twins vs. Miami, FSN. Go ahead, watch baseball. Maybe plan out your garden for the year. Think about changing the spark plugs in the mower. And with the Twins looking terrible, does it really matter who is in the lineup?

2:30pm Sunday: Big Ten basketball championship, CBS. I like to hope that this game goes into quintuple overtime, thereby ruining the tournament selection show that comes right after the game. Would Jim Delaney run onto the court and declare the game a tie, in order to appease the all-controlling TV networks?

5pm Sunday: NCAA Tournament Selection Show. One question: will the Gophers be in? (Okay, it’s unlikely. But you never know.)

What to read this weekend

Still got time? Read this in-depth study of the ball for this summer’s World Cup, which has already been scientifically proven to knuckle less than previous editions. (It’s more interesting than it sounds. Trust me.)

More? How about Eno Sarris, describing what it’s like to go inside major-league clubhouses as a baseball stats nerd?

Minnesota United took a big step forward on Thursday on the media front, announcing that all of the team’s 2014 home games would be televised live on KSTC Channel 45.

United’s final two home games of 2013 were also broadcast – the first on Fox Sports Net, the second on 45 – but before that, you have to go back to 2000 or 2001 to find a Minnesota pro soccer broadcast on wide-availability cable. The team has had games broadcast online for several years, and on Blaine public access TV before that, but has never before had any sort of deal that approaches this.

“Broadcasting all of our home games in primetime will help us reach a huge mainstream audience and is a major stamp of legitimacy for our team,” said team president Nick Rogers, in a press release. “We originally expected to be on TV in a few years, but it is a signal of our success that we have reached this milestone so quickly. With sports fans of all stripes tuning in to World Cup soccer on TV this summer, this partnership couldn’t come at a better time.”

Earlier this year, the NASL announced that it would charge fans for access to online broadcasts, ending several years that the games were freely available online. United’s deal with KSTC means that their games – at home, at least – will still be available for fans that might not be able to make it to Blaine.

United also announced that all of the matches would be televised at 7pm, the start time that has traditionally shown the best attendance. It’s a victory for a club that needs to attract fans to the stadium as well as to the broadcast, in that the team does not have to change start times to accomodate TV.

Play-by-play announcer Chris Lidholm confirmed, via Twitter, that he will return to call United’s games in 2014.

NOTE: This post also appeared at SoccerCentric.

We did eventually talk about Gopher basketball on this week’s podcast, with Star Tribune Gopher hoops beat writer Amelia Rayno, but first we talked about Bigfoot and Hanson for about an hour. Listen, won’t you?