Fire, Dynamo draw in lightning-shortened match

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Fire, Dynamo draw in lightning-shortened match

Sundays 1-1 tie with the Houston Dynamo was like no other Fire game over the past 15 years. This one didnt last the full 90 minutes, and settling for only a draw and one standings point might well haunt the Fire down the road.Heavy rains and lightning around Toyota Park led to referee Geoff Gamble calling the match after 66 minutes. Gamble stopped play twice, the second time coming at 8:37 p.m. and the decision to call the match a draw was made moments later. The Fire players accepted the decision but didnt like it -- especially the two most prominent foreign stars."In Europe wed play the whole 90 minutes," said German defender Arne Friedrich, who made his Major League Soccer debut. "The pitch was perfect. We would have had no problem (playing), but it was up to the referees.""I never saw this in my life," said Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo. "Its like theyre taking two points from us. Its hard for us to accept this, but these are the rules."Soccer matches are rarely delayed and even more rarely called because of the weather. Sundays was believed to be the first shortened match in MLS history, but it wasnt the first delayed by weather problems. FC Dallas and Los Angeles Galaxy players were taken off the field for an hour following a lightning attack in a match last season, but play was resumed and game eventually finished.New rules, and the use of lightning detectors, played a part in Sundays shortened match. MLS matches can now be declared final if one half is played, though every effort will be made to bring a match to its completion. Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich, handling post-game interview duties after head man Frank Klopas left quickly to tend to a family matter, didnt dispute the decision to call the match. It was made after Gamble consulted with other match officials, stadium officials and MLS officials."If you looked at the radar, there was nothing we could do. It was probably the right decision," Matkovich said.Like Pardo, Friedrich never played in a game like Sundays and hes in his 12th professional season. Fire captain Logan Pause, in his 10th MLS campaign, had played in one -- a U.S. Open Cup match vs. the Kansas City Wizards in 2006 at Toyota Park."That match was called, but we replayed it," Pause said.The Fire did dominate play against a Houston club that was without three of its starting midfielders, two sidelined by suspensions and the other by injury. But, the Fire had one horrendous defensive breakdown, which resulted in Will Bruins goal in the 24th minute. Playing against the wind in the first half, the Fire scored on Pauses fluke goal off Pardos free kick three minutes later and had the wind at its back in the second half when the game was called."We were very aggressive. If we had kept going with this game I think we would have won," said assistant coach Leo Percovich."As players, especially playing at home, we would have loved to have the 25 minutes that were left," said Pause. His goal, only the third of his 231-game MLS career, was hardly a thing of beauty."Pavel hit a free kick that I actually tried to get out of the way of," said Pause. "Chalk it up to old age, not being quick enough. It hit me square in the back, went up in the air (then off the crossbar) and into the back of the net. It was funny how it happened, but that sums up my goal-scoring

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."