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?

NOTE: This appeared at RandBall.

Game of the Week: Wild at Stars, 7:30pm today, FSN

It’s the first game of the new-look Wild. Matt Moulson will be on the ice for Minnesota, and can start proving himself worthy of what his new team gave up for him. Until then, though, we have time to argue about the trade – and for me to tell you that the Wild gave up too much.

Torrey Mitchell, I don’t consider too much; he was a third-line forward that ended up struggling on the fourth line, and if nothing else, it was a mercy trade, a chance for Mitchell to start over fresh. His departure also gives the Wild their second-best benefit of the trade – a chance to take Mitchell’s $2.5 million salary for next year off the books.

Mitchell leaving is more or less a wash with Cody McCormick, the tough-guy forward who is likely to replace him at the bottom of the Wild lineup. But it’s the two draft picks – a second-rounder this year, a second-rounder in 2016 – that make me wonder if the Wild got the raw end of the deal.

If all goes very, very well, Moulson will score eight, perhaps nine goals in a Wild uniform. He is a free agent when the year is up, which – given the Wild’s position in the standings – it is likely to be after one round of the playoffs. Minnesota will likely have to play St. Louis or Chicago in the first round, and Moulson or no, they’ll be heavy underdogs to either.

Second-round draft picks aren’t exactly the crown jewels of the hockey kingdom, but neither are they worthless. The second round is where teams find second-line forwards and second-pairing defensemen, late-blooming goaltenders and future Selke Trophy winners. All draft picks carry the risk of being busts, of course, but the higher you go, the lower the chance.

So here’s the trade: two future top-nine forwards for nine goals and $2.5 million, and an ever-so-slightly-increased chance of not exiting this year’s playoffs immediately. That seems like a lot of future to give up for a little bit of present, which is the type of trade that Doug Risebrough always used to make – which is part of the reason that Chuck Fletcher has been frantically digging in the prospect ditch for his entire tenure as general manager.

In other words, I wish the Wild hadn’t made this trade. But I also hope that they’ll prove me wrong.

What else to watch this weekend

11:25am today: Chelsea vs. Tottenham (NBCSN). Chelsea need a win to stay atop the league; Tottenham need a win to revive their chances of finishing in the top four. It’s a game between a team with everything to lose, and one with everything to gain; now, can Tottenham actually score a goal, for once?

Noon today / 7pm today: State hockey championships (Channel 45). There’s a short list of events that rise to the level of “cultural touchstone,” that are the kind of event that you can ask others about, whether you know they’re a hockey fan or even a sports fan. This is one of them. I recommend that you watch.

12:05 Sunday: Twins vs. Phillies (FSN). I’m going to keep putting baseball on the watch list until it warms up around here. Just one 65-degree day. That’s all.

What to read this weekend

Kyle Wagner of Deadspin went to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and came away with the truth about the current state of sports analytics: there’s great, useful data out there. But people are keeping it to themselves.

We talk Wild trade deadline and make some Twins predictions in this week’s podcast. Plus: Stu runs through his top Little-Known Former Science Museum Exhibits, which is good times for all.

Game of the Week: Twins vs. Boston, 12:05pm today (FSN)

That’s right: today, you can sit around in your underpants and watch baseball. I give you permission to delude yourself and pretend that this is a sign of spring; in reality, we know that spring won’t be here until mid-May this year, and that the first televised baseball game of the year holds no special significance, even on the first day of March.

Still, though: try. You can go back to accecpting the icy realities and/or watching hockey later tonight. For now, watch some baseball, and enjoy yourself.

What else to watch

11:25am today: Liverpool at Southampton (NBCSN). Liverpool tries to keep the momentum going against the Saints, who nobody wants to play right now. This game is doubly perfect if you’re waiting for baseball to start, because you can get into it, then start flipping back to it between innings.

5pm today: Gopher hoops at Michigan (BTN) The Wolverines lead the conference; the Gophers may be just one win away from an NCAA tournament berth. Which Minnesota team will show up? The fun-and-gun team that beat Iowa… or the unmitigated disaster that lost to Illinois?

7pm today: Penguins at Blackhawks (NBC). I think the NBC’s expanded slate of outdoor games is one of the dumbest things the league has ever done. (The message: “Hey, remember that thing you thought was special? It’s not! Quit enjoying stuff, rube!”) Nevertheless, this game is at Soldier Field; it could be kind of fun to watch. Give it a chance.

3pm Sunday: Senators at Canucks (NBCSN). I’m not sure what’s more notable about this game: that it’s being played at BC Place, or that it’s televised in the United States despite not involving New York, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, or Washington.

We talked about everything we could think of on the podcast this week. It started with the Wolves, touched on the Wild, and at one point veered off to ranting about the Big Ten Network and discussing which championship we most wanted to see before we die. Have a listen, I hope.

The North American Soccer League is switching up its playoff format yet again. Last season, the league introduced a split season, with the spring and fall champions meeting in the league title game. While this added some excitement to the first half of the season, it also killed the end of the second half, when the New York Cosmos clinched the fall title early.

This year, the league keeps the split-season champions, but will add two more teams, based on the standings for the entire season. If the same team wins both halves, then the three teams with the best full-season records will also make the playoffs.

The spring and fall champions will host the semi-final matchups and be given the top two seeds, based on their full-season records; the other teams will be seeded #3 and #4. The highest-seeded semi-final winner will host the league championship, which retains the moniker “Soccer Bowl.”

The playoff change does not address the scheduling imbalance between the two seasons; the spring championship will still be a nine-game sprint, with the fall championship an 18-game relative marathon.

Most of the confusion with the new playoff scenarios will likely take place in the fall, when there will effectively be two sets of standings – the fall-season-only standings, and the full-season standings.

United team president Nick Rogers supported the move. “I think it’s a great move for the league,” he said in a press release. “It protects the integrity of the competition and will keep teams in the hunt further into the season while at the same time ensuring that every match continues to matter.”

Had the system been in place last year, United would still have missed the playoffs. Carolina and Tampa Bay, which finished as the two teams with the best full-season records last year, would have joined Atlanta (third-best full-season record) and New York (fifth over the full season) in the playoffs; Minnesota would have been left out in fourth, four points behind Tampa Bay.

Cold will be a factor, should Minnesota reach the playoffs this season and host. The games will take place deep into the potential snow season, with the semifinals November 8 and 9 and the league championship on the following weekend.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall, your home for ROAD TRIP!

Game of the Week: The Olympics, NBC Family of Networks

Until Thursday, I was enjoying the Olympics immensely. Even the struggles of the USA curling teams didn’t bother me, because hey, curling is on TV again! The same was true of skiing, and sliding, and all of the other enjoyable sports that hardly ever make it on the TV except during the Olympics.

Then came hockey, on Thursday and Friday, and I was reminded of the most terrible thing about the Olympics, the thing that’s true of it and the World Cup and any other quadrennial event: if your team loses, you have to wait four whole years for redemption. And the truly awful thing is that, if you had already been waiting four years for redemption, like both USA hockey teams against Canada, and it doesn’t come – then your four-year wait becomes eight, and can become twelve, sixteen, a lifetime, all quite easily.

I abhor the idea of the NHL pulling its players out of the 2018 Olympics; there’s just nothing better than Olympic hockey, and whatever NHL-run World Cup of Hockey event would replace it just would not, could not, be the same. However, the only good thing I can think of is this: I’ll bet the Bettman-led money-grubbers would probably have it every other year or so, and then I wouldn’t have to wait whole huge chunks of my life for the USA to get another shot at beating Canada.

Anyway, there’s a whole bunch of stuff today and tomorrow, including the closing ceremonies tomorrow night if that’s your sort of thing. All that’s left for me, though, is this: I sure hope Canada loses at hockey.

What else to watch this weekend

5pm today: Gophers at Ohio State, BTN. Speaking of disappointing teams who lose at the worst possible time… Anyway, I suggest pairing this struggling local basketball team with another this evening:

8pm today: Wolves at Utah, FSN. It’ll be a whole nice evening of basketball. And if both teams lose, don’t worry: they don’t have to wait four more years for another game. (This hockey thing may be bugging me an awful lot.)

9am Sunday: Daytona 500, FOX. Sure, you might be one of the multitudes who are far too cool to ever watch something so absurd as NASCAR. That said, though, this is NASCAR’s biggest spectacle, in a sport that is America’s leading purveyor of spectacles, and so I recommend flipping it on.

1pm Sunday: Accenture Match Play, CBS. There are people playing golf right now, even as I type this and you read it. They are playing golf, and their cars are not covered in a two-inch layer of icy snow, and they can drive on the interstate without their cars going sideways with little provocation. Imagine that you might be one of them. Lying to yourself might be the only way to get through this week.

What to read this weekend

Still stuck inside? I recommend checking an examination of US women’s professional soccer, and why so many players are heading overseas for an entirely different – and more stable – experience.

I need to feel better about the USA losing twice to Canada at hockey. In order to do so, here’s an update of the Canada-USA Tale of the Tape, from a few years back.

Data source: The CIA World Factbook

USA CANADA Advantage
Population 316,438,601 34,568,211 USA
Quebec? No Yes USA
Per-capita GDP $51,700 $42,300 USA
Military Scary Gord L. and Milt J.
(Milt off Wed.)
USA
NHL Teams 23 7 USA
Fought for own independence? Yes Wussed out USA
Was actually a country during War of 1812 Yes Despite what they want
you to believe, no
USA
World status Last superpower “We’re real nice, eh” USA
Adjective to describe flag? Symbolic Floral USA
Currency? Supports world markets Has funny pictures USA
Complex Egotism Inferiority USA
French-fry based awesomeness Chili cheese fries Poutine USA
Thanksgiving in… November October USA

I do not feel better.

Thursday, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber gave his most detailed statement yet on the possibility of bringing an expansion franchise to Minnesota.

The league announced yesterday that it was buying the struggling Chivas USA franchise and making plans to sell it to another Los Angeles group. Speaking with reporters on a conference call, the comissioner also gave some more details on the league’s expansion plans – the much-talked-about “four franchises by 2020″ plan.

Regarding Minneapolis, he noted that the league has had talks with a potential ownership group, and said, “That opportunity is one that we’re excited about as we believe we need more teams in the Midwest. I think if Minneapolis as a market that can continue to show the support that they’ve had for the NASL club [Minnesota United FC] and if they continue to make progress on a number of different stadium opportunities, there’s a real opportunity there.”

Two franchises – Orlando City, which will join the league in 2015, and Miami, which is still in need of a stadium plan – are already spoken for. Garber’s comments, in which he gave the most details about Atlanta and Minneapolis, indicate again that the Twin Cities are near the top of the league’s list for expansion destinations.

It’s also worth noting that the commissioner mentioned both multiple stadium opportunities, and Minnesota United. Many local soccer fans have wondered if the Vikings’ ownership has the inside track on an MLS franchise, given that they’ve already succeeded in wheedling a stadium out of the state, but Garber’s statement makes clear that the potential local ownership group is also up in the air.

The stadium issue, as in Miami, may yet be the biggest hurdle to clear in the path towards MLS in Minnesota. It would seem, however, that local fans will also need to demonstrate a committment to supporting the area’s already-existing pro soccer team – perhaps the fastest way for fans to encourage the league to send a franchise the Twin Cities’ way.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

Minnesota United is bringing back a familiar face. Midfielder Jamie Watson, who played for the club in late 2012, will be returning to Minnesota for the 2014 season.

Watson, who was on loan from Orlando City for his eight-game stretch in Minnesota, has long been a figure of fun to Minnesota’s die-hard fans. The Dark Clouds have for years taunted any opposing player deemed a bit too unsteady on his feat with the song, “You dive like Jamie Watson!”, a reference to several of Watson’s previous wobbly experiences against Minnesota.

The Dark Clouds always hang up flags at the back of the stands, one for the nationality of each non-American player on the roster; when Watson signed, they got hold of the nautical flag for “diving” and hung it up among the rest. To his credit, Watson took the ribbing in the fun spirit it was intended; when he scored his only goal in Minnesota, he ran over to the fans, and celebrated by pretending to swan-dive into the turf.

“Their heads are going to explode when they have me and Pablo Campos in the same team,” said Watson. “They’re going to have to rewrite a bunch of chants and cheers.”

The midfielder was excited to get back in front of Minnesota’s fans – “They treated me so great after hating me for so many years,” he said – and with the players that were still around in Minnesota from his last stint. “I got a couple of text messages when the week started [from players], and I kind of had to be a little coy about it because I didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatched,”  he said. “It was really cool that people reached out to tell me how excited they would be if it all worked out.”

Watson scored ten goals in 20 appearances with Orlando City in USL Pro last year, and tallied 23 over his three seasons with the team, a span in which the team twice won the third-division championship.

Said the 27-year-old, “It was very special to me in Orlando, the connection that I had with the fans. I think Minnesota is one of the only places, because of the experience I had last time, that I would have been tempted to leave Orlando for.”

According to Watson, the deal came together very quickly, and he was impressed with how respectful both sides were during the process. “It’s just kind of come about in the last week,” he said. “A bit unexpected, to be honest. Everything just kind of fell into place after talking to Manny [Lagos] and Nick Rogers, and working with my agent Eddie Rock, who’s from Minnesota. I talked to people in Orlando and they kind of told me where their plans were headed. I realized that Minnesota was really going out of their way to make it happen.”

Said Watson, “I’m sad to be leaving Orlando because I did enjoy my time here. At the same time, coming to Minnesota, I’m very very excited about it. I’ve played there before and I know how special it is, and it’s only gotten stronger with the new ownership that’s come in.”

In his last stint with Minnesota, Watson played mostly on the left-hand side of midfield, trying to create more by making runs into areas and less by crossing the ball. It remains to be seen whether the team will deploy him in a similar wide role, or will perhaps move him more centrally, perhaps as an attacking central midfielder or even as a second striker.

He also gave some of the best interview answers I’ve heard, including one explanation of the team’s attacking strategy against Puerto Rico that I recall went on for a good three and a half minutes, and ended with him saying, “So, uh, yeah. Transcribe that, I guess.”

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.