Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Posts about Soccer

Weekend Links with Jon Marthaler: The final months of the Metrodome

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: June 8, 2013 - 9:47 AM

The Metrodome now has an official shelf life; the stadium that's been at the center of Minnesota sports for more than three decades will expire in a matter of months, after the Vikings finish up their final voyage under the Teflon. I'll be there today, for the Minnesota United FC soccer match, and unless I make it to a Vikings game this fall, today is likely to be my final trip to the Dome.

Last year, my parents moved out of the house I grew up in, and though I tried not to be sentimental during the move, it was impossible, because everywhere I looked was another memory; that now-empty room was my room, that now-bare floor was where I used to lay down and read, that corner of the yard was home plate, and on, and on. For a kid like me who grew up loving all Minnesota sports, the Dome feels the exact same way. It's where I saw my first Twins game, and my first Vikings game, and my first Gopher football game. It's where I used to imagine myself, playing major league baseball or college football or in the Final Four.

The Metrodome always felt basic, shall we say, but in this era of Target Fields and Xcel Energy Centers it feels positively Spartan. It's terrible for half the sports played there and just uncomfortable for the rest, and when the new Football Crystal Cathedral is in place to replace it, I suppose not many fans will shed much of a tear.

You can bet that I'll linger as much as possible today, though. I tried not to look back when I drove away from the house, and my childhood, for the final time. I doubt I'll really be able to do the same today.

*On with the links: 

*The Timberwolves badly, badly need a shooting guard, and the preceding part of this sentence has been true more or less since 1989. Canis Hoopus looks at the free agent and trade options this offseason.

*Wright Thompson of ESPN goes to Italy to explore the virulent racism that most often expresses itself through soccer fandom in Italy.

*Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played in the French Open semifinals yesterday, and Grantland's Brian Phillips was there every step of the insane way.

*Spencer Hall interviewed Baylor football coach Art Briles, and while Briles is the immediate subject, you're better off just reading it as a profile of every college football head coach ever.

*And finally: GQ sent Drew Magary on a Kid Rock-themed cruise, and the result is entertaining (if not necessarily appropriate for all audiences.)

Weekend Links with Jon Marthaler: The Twins' MLB Draft options

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: June 1, 2013 - 10:08 AM

The NFL is the most popular sports league in America; NFL teams play 16-game seasons, one game per week. College football is arguably in second place; those teams play 13 games, one per week. The most popular fantasy sport in American is fantasy football, in part because you have to set your lineup only once per week. Football's popularity in America is due to many things, but its once-a-week nature has to contribute to that. And it's enough to make me wonder: would fewer games make other sports more popular?

Apologies in advance for bringing up the NASL again - it's on my mind lately, I'm afraid - but the league landed on an innovation this year that's working wonderfully. In past years, teams played 28 games in a season. By early July, with the playoffs still months away and the opening-day excitement long since faded, boredom started to set in a little.

This year, though, the league is split up into two halves, including a 12-game season and a 14-game season. Even though it's June 1, this week's games have major playoff implications, if only because there are four games left in the season after today, not 20. Artificial it is, but it feels far more exciting - only thanks to a shorter season.

I'm not saying that the NBA or NHL should split its season into two halves, because that would be ridiculous. But there are 30 teams in both leagues; what if those sports played a 58-game schedule, playing every other team home and away once? Players would love it, owners would hate it, but I think every game would feel like a bigger game for the fans, which might drive more people to the gate and to the television screen - and isn't that what owners really want? If nothing else, it sure seems to work for football.

*On with the links:

*Aaron Gleeman looks at the Twins' choices in next week's MLB Draft, coming up with nine directions the Twins might go with the fourth pick.

*You should be reading A Wolf Among Wolves' offseason recap, which includes wonderful looks back at every player on the roster last year.

*Joe Posnanski writes about Doc Emrick, the voice of American hockey, who by common consent - even among his fellow play-by-play announcers - is the best in the business.

*Why can't Canada win the Stanley Cup? Let's ask Nate Silver!

*Jonathan Mahler has some very European soccer ideas about how to get the insanity out of youth sports in America.

*And finally: NBC is taking over Premier League coverage from ESPN, starting next year, so we wave goodbye to our Saturday morning family, ESPN commentators Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, with this outtake reel.

Tuesday (Baseball road trip) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: May 28, 2013 - 12:08 PM


In recent years in this space, we've given updates along the way of the annual baseball road trip we take with friends. With a somewhat compacted trip this year -- four days, Friday-Monday -- over the Memorial Day weekend, however, we decided to save it all up for one post when people might actually be reading.


We did write a couple of things for print here (on hockey and wandering in Kansas City) and here (on Major League Soccer), so we won't rehash that part. Instead, here are some bullet points on the trip:

*This might have been the most exhausting and densely packed (in a good way) trip we have attempted. Our crew -- Rocket, P-Money and friend of the RandBall covenant Jon Marthaler -- left Minneapolis on Friday morning around 9:30 a.m.; we arrived back in Minneapolis around 11:30 p.m. Monday. In between, we saw an Iowa Cubs game (Friday), a KC Royals game (Saturday), a Sporting KC Major League soccer match (Sunday) and two Cedar Rapids Kernels games (Monday doubleheader). We also played nine holes of golf on three different days, played mini golf another day and drove more than 1,000 miles. This is all somehow possible.

*Golfing pro tip: If you are an average-to-poor golfer traveling, there is no need to seek out the best courses an area has to offer. Most decent-sized cities -- Des Moines, Kansas City and Cedar Rapids, in our case -- have very decent municipal courses with fairly easy access to tee times. We either booked or walked right onto all three courses. All three were in great shape, and green fees were about $15 everywhere for 9 holes. That's really all you need if golf isn't the primary reason for your trip.

*Byron Buxton is the real deal. The Twins' No. 1 pick in 2012 is tearing it up at Cedar Rapids. He was 3-for-5 with two walks in Monday's doubleheader. He is extremely fast. You don't need us to tell you that, but there it is anyway.

*The Cedar Rapids ballpark isn't much to look at from the outside, but inside it is a perfectly suited Class A ballpark -- a major upgrade over the Twins' previous affiliate in Beloit. That's us pictured above with Mr. Shucks, the mascot.

*Kansas City is a lot further from Cedar Rapids than you might think. In our initial planning, we didn't really do the math on it. We just assumed it was about as far from KC to Des Moines as it was to Cedar Rapids. FALSE. If not for some, ah, clever driving getting out of the Sporting KC match Sunday afternoon, we might still be driving to Cedar Rapids. It's almost 6 hours away from the far western suburb where Sporting KC plays. Noted.

*We had perhaps our unhealthiest four days of eating in the past 10 years. No, seriously. It was a steady diet of car snacks, hotel breakfasts, barbecued meats, ballpark food, bar food and fast food. It was dollar hot dog day during the doubleheader Monday in Cedar Rapids, and we're not even going to publicly admit how many hot dogs we ate. We are eating a salad for lunch today and it's not even close.

*Funniest moment: Rocket playing mini golf, missing a two-foot putt, angrily raking the ball toward the hole, missing again, kicking at the ball, then tapping the ball hard enough that it hopped outside the course off a rock, into the parking lot where it kept bouncing until it settled into a ravine. It was the first time in recorded mini golf history that anyone was in danger of losing a ball.

*Best thing about minor league games: We were sitting so close to the field Monday in Cedar Rapids that we were giving hitters scouting reports while they were on deck and they were actually listening.

*Unbelievable weather fortune: The weather forecast for pretty much the entire trip looked dire. Rain and thunderstorms were forecasted everywhere. But somehow we had zero rainouts -- even getting an extra game Monday because of a Sunday rainout -- and threaded the needle driving between multiple thunderstorms on multiple occasions. Everywhere we went either seemed to get pounded by rain when we left or was pounded by rain before we got there. It was even actually sunny for a lot of the trip.

*The bubble hockey tournament referenced in one of the above links was so intense that two of the plastic players (one from each team) were knocked off their pegs and lay motionless on the fake ice. Turns out that you can lift up the bubble from one side to put them back on their pegs. Also noted. (By the way: With Jon as our teammate, we took down Rocket and P-Money 4 games to 2 in a best of 7. It was only one quarter to play at the Blue Line bar in Kansas City. We really can't recommend that place enough).


Major League Soccer official: "No question" Vikings stadium is suitable for MLS

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: May 15, 2013 - 3:16 PM


 A match in 2007 at the Metrodome featuring David Beckham and the LA Galaxy drew 20,000 fans

A match in 2007 at the Metrodome featuring David Beckham and the LA Galaxy drew 20,000 fans

On the heels of Monday's Vikings stadium unveiling, we had a chance to chat with Dan Courtemanche, the Executive VP of Communications for Major League Soccer, about the design of the building and the potential future of MLS in Minnesota. The Vikings, per the terms of the original stadium language, have exclusive rights to bring Major League Soccer to the venue for five years after it opens.


Here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Courtemanche (which we hope to follow in a subsequent post after an interview with Vikings VP Lester Bagley):

*On whether the new stadium design, which does have a soccer configuration, would work for MLS: "No question. We believe it’s another strong indicator of the growth of soccer across the country when you have venues like this that can house not just a potential MLS team but a World Cup game in the future."

*On where MLS expansion stands: "We don’t have specific plans or a timeline, but we certainly believe over the next decade we will add more teams. Whether it’s to 24 or 28, it hasn’t been decided. We’re at 19 now, hopefully soon to announce we’re at 20 (with another New York franchise). In 2004, we were at 10. … Back then, I’m not so sure we would have seen back then we were at 19 about to announce 20."

*On how some perceived negatives -- fixed roof, football venue, artificial surface -- are not the dealbreakers they once might have seemed to be: "Clearly it’s going to be a state-of-the-art facility that will rival any stadium throughout the world. When it comes to the configuration and capacity, we have similar stadiums in Seattle, New England. It’s in a market-by-market basis as to what fits best. Had we gone into Seattle and built a 20,000 seat stadium, there would be more than 20,000 people per game who couldn’t watch them because they averaged 43,000 people last year. ... We play a lot of games indoors in Vancouver in retractable roof at BC Place. It seats 66K, and they downsize it into just lower bowl. … There are more state-of-the-art designs to downsize stadiums that do exist. The vast majority of [Vancouver's] games are played indoors just because of their climate. ... We’re fortunate that due to the advances in artificial surfaces … the technology is so similar now to playing on grass that it’s not a make-or-break situation."

*On why the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium isn't a stadium solution: "Without me knowing the soccer configuration, the bottom line is that if you want to have the opportunity to be profitable, you have to control your venue. ... When it comes to professional sports in sports leagues, the ability to be profitable at the local level -- a major factor is control of the venue, whether it’s revenue streams, gates, parking, concessions, etc. When the ownership is a secondary tenant, it makes it challenging. In other words, it’s much better to have the owner – if we were going to partner with someone like the Vikings – to have it in their stadium where they control the venue and revenue streams."

TFD: Video of the must-see soccer finish between Watford F.C. and Leicester City

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: May 13, 2013 - 5:41 PM

If you haven't seen this ... wow. Just wow. Even if you don't like soccer. Wow. Aggregate goals tied ... closing moments ... again, wow.





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