Fire to kick off season in Montreal

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Fire to kick off season in Montreal

When MLS says Bienvenue to its 19th franchise, Le Feu will be there.

The Fire will start its season on St. Patricks Day in Montreal according to the 2012 schedule released by the league Thursday. The Impact makes the jump from NASL to MLS and the Men in Red will be their first opponent at Olympic Stadium. (No word as to whether or not Youppi will be in attendance.) The Fires home opener is one week later when the Union visits Toyota Park.

With the leagues membership now at an odd number, the clubs 34-game unbalanced schedule will feature 25 matches against Eastern Conference rivals but theyll play each Western Conference team just once. The best news with this schedule is that the Fire wont have to visit raucous Qwest Field in Seattle where theyve only earned one point from three league matches and lost the U.S. Open Cup there last year. They will instead host the Sounders April 28th. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy visit Toyota Park on Sunday, July 8th. The Brimstone Cup will be up for grabs in Bridgeview May 23rd when FC Dallas pays visit. On Oct. 3rd, the club will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its founding when former Fire midfielder Peter Nowak brings his Union side back to Chicago on Oct. 3rd.

The Fire are scheduled to appear 13 times on national television, including 5 matches on the brand, spankin new NBC Sports Network (shameless corporate plug!!!) beginning with an April 21st date at Toronto FC. The Men in Red will make their first ever appearance on NBC Saturday, Oct. 6th when they visit Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls. The Fire will have to save its best for last with the last 12 matches of the season against Eastern rivals ending with a home date against DC United Oct. 27th on NBC Sports Network. (You should watch that channel, you REALLY REALLY should!)

The entire schedule is below. Plan your travel accordingly, Section 8.

DATEOPPONENTTIMETVSat., March 17
at Montreal1:00 PM
Sat., March 24
vs. Philadelphia
7:30 PM
Sunday, April 1
at Colorado
6:00 PM
GalavisionSunday, April 15
vs. Houston
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, April 21
at Toronto FC
2:30 PM
NBCSNSaturday, April 28
vs. Seattle
7:30 PM
Friday, May 4
at Chivas USA
10:00 PM
ESPN Deportes
Wednesday, May 9
vs. Real Salt Lake
7:30 PM
Saturday, May 12
vs. Kansas City
7:30 PM
Sunday, May 20
at Portland
6:00 PM
GalavisionWednesday, May 23
vs. FC Dallas
7:30 PM
Saturday, May 26
at Columbus
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, June 2
at New England
6:30 PM
Sunday, June 17
vs. New York
4:00 PM
NBCSN
Saturday, June 23
vs. Columbus
7:30 PM
Friday, June 29
at Kansas City
7:00 PM
NBCSNTuesday, July 3
at Houston
7:30 PM
Sunday, July 8
vs. Los Angeles
2:00 PM
ESPNSaturday, July 14
vs. Vancouver
7:30 PM
Wednesday, July 18
at New York
12:00 PM
Saturday, July 21
at Toronto FC
3:00 PM
Saturday, July 28
at San Jose
9:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 4
vs. Toronto FC
7:30 PM
Sunday, Aug. 12
at Philadelphia
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, Aug. 18
vs. New England
7:30 PM
Wednesday, Aug. 22
at DC United
6:30 PM
Sunday, Sept. 2
vs. Houston
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, Sept. 15
vs. Montreal
7:30 PM
Saturday, Sept. 22
vs. Columbus
7:30 PM
Friday, Sept. 28
at Kansas City
7:30 PM
NBCSNWednesday, Oct. 3
vs. Philadelphia
7:30 PM
Saturday, Oct. 6
at New York
2:30 PM
NBCSaturday, Oct. 20
at New England
6:30 PM
Saturday, Oct. 27
vs. DC United
6:30 PM
NBCSN

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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."