Our City is a weekly column focused on my perspective on Orlando City as a supporter. I would love to incorporate your ideas and stories, if you have something to add or a story idea please connect by commenting here or on Twitter: @kevinmercer225
As the new year and Orlando City's MLS debut both beckon, I can't help but be a little reflective. The past few years of Orlando City soccer have provided so many exciting moments. As much fun as MLS is going to be, I will miss USL Pro. It was a fun league and provided a great place for our club and its supporters to find their voice and make their argument for MLS in Orlando. Time will tell, but I feel we are an infinitely better team having had a few years in the lower league. The last few years have provided some great memories, here are my top ten:
10. Getting trounced by AS Roma at Rollins College's Sandspur Field 5-0
Wait, what? You are starting this list of classic moments with an absolute drubbing? Well yeah, it was a really special day. As I remember it, I was late for work the day the extremely limited number of tickets were released and was able to secure two. In case you don't know, Rollins College's soccer facility has a capacity of 500, with some standing room tickets added for this game.
My niece and I stood in the standing room area, and got there early enough to be right in front. To be able to see some of the best players in the world, playing literally feet from you, was such a treat. Orlando City was out of season and managed to cobble a team from who was in town and an extraordinary number of trialists. We were no match for a top European club in mid-season form, but it was still such an excellent day for the supporters and the club.
9. Beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Open Cup 2014
I had my fair share of wins to pick from when selecting a contest with our I-4 Corridor rivals. Orlando City holds a 6-0 record against the Tampa Bay club, while the Rowdies seem to hold a myriad of excuses as to why they have never been able to overcome a team theoretically a division below them. We've beaten them in two home and away I-4 Derby contests. The main excuse coming from the Rowdies camp has always been that they treated all their contests with Orlando City as friendly matches. That's why the Open Cup win makes the list, since we beat them convincingly, 4-1. And it counted.
8. Beating Colorado Rapids in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup at the Citrus Bowl
Speaking of the U.S. Open Cup, we’ve had our fair share of upsets in this competition. The Lions shocked the Rapids, 3-1, behind a Dom Dwyer brace. A midweek stormy evening meant this game was sparsely attended, but those that were there will now have a fantastic pub story to hold over our friends’ heads when we start telling stories about the club in our old age. Orlando City played confidently and held the ball well for the entire game, never looking like they would give this one up. The other highlight of the evening was the small contingent in the supporters’ end providing enough smoke bombs to create an impromptu goth club at the Citrus Bowl. The Rapids took their revenge the following year, winning a U.S. Open Cup match in Denver, 5-2.
7. Beating Sporting KC in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup in Kansas City
We had a good run in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup. Beating the Rapids gave us the chance to travel to Kansas City. The previous year we gave Sporting a game in KC, so when I tuned in to this game, winning wasn't out of the question, but it didn't make beating our sister club at the time any less sweet. One Long Tan goal and a lot of defending is all it took to pull off this away win. I'm aware most MLS teams don't hold the U.S. Open Cup with that much importance until the last few rounds, but for Orlando City it provided a chance to show the nation we were ready to compete with MLS teams in competitive matches.
6. The addition of Flavio Augusto da Silva to the ownership group
I've already spoken of my appreciation of founder and president Phil Rawlins, it is his vision and determination that saw Orlando City's arrival and initial success in Central Florida. The arrival of da Silva added the deep pockets and Brazilian connection that gave us additional clout with MLS executives and city leaders in our chase for a top flight club. Once that goal was achieved, the Brazilian's relationship with a certain Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known as former FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká, allowed Orlando City to sign its Designated Player. Flavio Augusto da Silva might not be the public face of the club that Rawlins is, but his leadership has proven just as valuable.
5. The Stadium Announcement
Maybe it was the first time I've ever watched a live stream from a city council meeting while at work, but I know I wasn't alone. City supporters turned out in mass or tuned in to the proceedings online for a number of city and county meetings until our stadium was finally approved by everyone. Those were some nervous days, as all the hard work put in on the field and in the boardroom, and all the impressive attendance totals and championships were almost for naught. MLS made it very clear that a stadium deal had to be in place before Orlando would be awarded a franchise. Passing a public spending bill in this political climate is truly an accomplishment. I'm happy to have one last year in the Citrus Bowl, but I know we are all looking forward to the first game in our new home. The addition of SunRail to the area means I'll be able to relive one of my favorite things about going to European matches — taking the train to the game and walking to the match. All in the friendly confines of Orlando!
4. Beating Newcastle United at the Citrus Bowl in 2011
Every summer, English Premier League clubs journey over the Atlantic to warm up for their impending season against U.S. clubs. These games provide a chance for the English clubs to play for their American fans, continue to build their fan base, and for U.S. teams in mid-season form to fight for some bragging rights in games that literally have no meaning whatsoever. But when your third division club beats one of England's most famous clubs, you have to get a little excited. A Kevin Molino goal off of some hard work from Dennis Chin to create the chance gave Orlando City the one goal it needed to secure the classic win. Newcastle fans were left stunned and speaking of what now seemed to be a long season ahead of them. Newcastle went on to go unbeaten in its first 11 games and finish fifth in the EPL that season.
3. The MLS Announcement
Another person writing the same list might put this event at number 1, but to me it was pretty anti-climatic by the time the announcement came around. The celebration itself in Orlando's historic Church Street Station (site of the Orlando Magic's NBA expansion announcement incidentally) was more a party to celebrate the culmination of a lot of hard work and politicking by the club. While the Orlando City faithful might have seen this one coming, this event did put the club in the local headlines and brought attention that a USL Pro club wasn't able to do. Suddenly all the skeptics were ready to get excited about soccer in Central Florida. This excitement of course translated instantly into season tickets and merchandise sales that will be key to the Lion's long term success.
2. USL Pro Championship Final 2011
If you are a longtime Orlando City fan, you know we love to win our championships with as much drama as possible. The 2011 final was the first to set that tone. A total of 11,220 fans packed the lower part of the Citrus Bowl to watch Orlando take on the Harrisburg City Islanders. The first half was everything you expect a final would be — conservative and quiet, as each team looked for its opportunity. Four minutes into the second half, Orlando City's talisman, goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, went off with a red card for a challenge outside of the penalty area. Playing a player down, City fought on to score what seemed to be the winner in the 89th minute, only to concede minutes later to Harrisburg, leaving the match tied up in the dying moments of regular time.
Harrisburg struck quickly in the overtime period, leaving the Orlando City faithful worried, but still full of voice, as they pushed the Lions on for the equalizer. Lewis Neal converted a penalty in the 115th minute to bring Orlando City level and push the game to penalty kicks. With Gallardo out from the earlier red card, little used back-up Sean Kelley would be in goal for Orlando. If you like an underdog story, you couldn’t write a better one than Kelley’s performance in the penalty kick round. Saving the first two, Devorn Jorsling finally put the game to rest with a rocket to the top right, as the Orlando support were repaid for their faith with a championship. Kelley, who played two USL games all season and didn’t even start in the final, walked away with the MVP and a place in Orlando City history.
1. USL Pro Championship Final 2013
It would be hard to imagine anything topping the drama and excitement of the 2011 final. Having missed out on the 2012 final and losing the regular season championship to the Richmond Kickers, the Lions came into the playoffs on a mission to “Get Our Trophy Back.” All week, excitement for the match increased, as ticket sales goals fell in quick succession. Rawlins dared Orlando to pack the Citrus Bowl and top 20,000 fans. In the end, almost 21,000 showed up. Orlando favorite, Sporting Kansas City loanee Dom Dwyer, was back in Orlando for the final game, after dominating the USL for the first half of the season and earning a recall to Kansas City. The Charlotte Eagles found the net first, in the 20th minute, proving they were here to play and ready to ruin Orlando’s championship party. Of course it was Dwyer who scored the equalizer 13 minutes later. A shoot-out ensued, with the game tied at 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3. In the 69th minute the Lions scored for the fourth time of the night, and with the help of two Dennis Chin goals and one from Orlando City’s first youth system call-up ever, Adama Mbengue, sealed the game at 7-4, giving Orlando City its second USL Championship.
Moving into MLS will of course rewrite this list as time goes on. We are sure to witness even more excitement in the coming years, but these moments in Orlando City history will always be the foundation for everything that happens in the future.
So what do you think, did I mention your favorite moment? Would you add something else?
EDITOR'S NOTE: The final score for the 2013 USL Pro Championship has been corrected.
|The MLS Announcement
|Beating Newcastle United
|Beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the US Open Cup
|Winning the USL-Pro Championship in 2011
|Winning the USL-Pro Championship in 2013
|Beating Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup
Reflecting on Eight Years with The Mane Land
A look back over my time with The Mane Land (so far).
As of last week, I have been a contributor at The Mane Land for eight years. That’s longer than I’ve ever been at any of my actual jobs in my life. There are literally only a couple of people who have been with the site longer, but I’m still amazed at how long it’s been. This is not to say I’m going anywhere, but rather I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at the past eight years, and look ahead to the future.
Unlike some, I didn’t come to be a supporter of Orlando City until it was announced that the club was joining MLS. At the time, I was contemplating picking a club to follow in MLS, but being in Tallahassee, there were no nearby options at that time. I considered FC Dallas and D.C. United, given the two were geographically closer in proximity to me than any others. Fortunately, it was literally while I was considering my options that the announcement was made regarding Orlando City’s jump to MLS. It was an easy decision.
As I do in many aspects of my life, I immediately started researching my new club, which led me to the content being produced by The Mane Land. There was also an article on the site titled “Join The Mane Land Staff.” I had often over the years internally bemoaned that I rarely used my Bachelor’s degree in English, and the desire to write welled up in me so much that I emailed the staff.
In response, one of our former editors, Andrew Marcinko, contacted me and said “I think your voice would be a great fit on TML.” He asked me to submit a Fan Post (those went away with our presence on SBN), and then another piece for review. Following that, our founder and managing editor, Michael Citro, emailed me to welcome me to the staff. I had no idea at the time how big a part of my life this blog would become.
I started out writing Monday’s Lions Links — often one of the more difficult days to write — and a feature piece. It’s been many years gone by now, but there was a time when the feature piece was “Pride Pub,” an ongoing series that paired craft beer and good food based on Orlando City’s opponent. I can tell you that the research for that was very enjoyable, and I still use some of the recipes I found to this day.
Eventually, I started contributing more match coverage and analytical pieces. Staff came and went, but I never thought to leave since I was enjoying myself. Sometime after that, I was promoted to senior columnist, for which I’m grateful. I can without reservation say that I’m a better writer thanks to my time with the site, and from working with such excellent staff.
In November of 2016, Michael asked if I wanted to give co-hosting The Mane Land PawedCast a try. My first recording was for Episode 71. We just recorded Episode 354, and with the exception of maybe two or three episodes, I have been on every single one of 283 episodes over the last six plus years. Michael and I have spent a lot of time talking on and off the podcast over the years, and I’m proud of what we have produced and to call him my friend.
We recently added an Orlando Pride-specific podcast called Skopurp: An Orlando Pride PawedCast. For years we wanted to give the Pride the time and attention the club deserves. Now, it is a reality, but one that I ask you to listen to and share. I’ll even put out that although Michael and I are the current hosts, we merely consider ourselves stewards and are hoping to get others to come onboard and eventually take it to the next level.
When I started with The Mane Land, the site had just made the move from a free WordPress site to the SBNation network. It was a big deal, and for many years it was a good partnership. Of course that all came to an end not too long ago, and our blog went the independent route thanks to the incredibly generous support of our readers and listeners. In fact, if you want to be one of those supporting our efforts, please go to our Buy Me A Coffee site to become a member. The move has allowed a flexibility we didn’t have before, but I really want others to have the same sense of joy and accomplishment that I have as a member of our staff.
At one point we had nearly twice the staff that we do now, and as you know, many hands make light work. The opposite of that is also true. I genuinely believe that there must be others out there with the same passion for Orlando City as I have — with the same desire to have their voice heard, whether through the written word or on a podcast. I promise you there is an opportunity to contribute here with us. Our internal discussions are informative, engaging, and often funny. Please consider joining us, as I did eight years ago. I haven’t regretted it and I know you won’t either.
I want to thank all of those who contributed to The Mane Land over the years. There are many that I am still in touch with, though they are no longer a part of the staff. Of course, the current staff are a pleasure to work with, and I appreciate their dedication to what we are trying to do.
Finally, I want to thank the readers and listeners over the years. From those who regularly comment on our articles, to those that I’ve personally met at matches or even randomly on the street, you are a big reason that we do all of this. You are a big reason why I’ve been doing this for the better part of a decade. it is always a genuine pleasure hearing your thoughts or simply sharing a moment of joy together — U.S. Open Cup final, anyone?
So, thank you. I look forward to many more years of this journey together.
The Mane Land Announces Membership Program
Maximize your Mane Land experience with our new TML membership program while supporting our independent efforts.
Hello, readers of The Mane Land and listeners of our podcasts. Before you start reading this, please note that the most important part of this post is at the end. So, don’t stop until you get to the bottom.
You may recall that when we left SBNation to become independent, we really weren’t sure the best way to go about that. Many of our readers and listeners generously offered to help us make that transition, but we still weren’t sure the best path forward, so we took a poll.
The poll was pretty much split down the middle between those who preferred a one-time, Kickstarter-style campaign (which we did, and those of you who stepped up to help completely blew us away!) and those who favored a Patreon-style, subscription-based membership with extra perks. In fact, the member subscriptions option got a few more votes in our poll.
The folks who took part in our GoFundMe fundraiser were fantastic and are now immortalized on this very site on the “Our Founders” page. But we had always planned to give folks the option to choose whichever method of support they preferred and we tried to communicate that throughout the process. It took a little longer than expected to get up and running, but our membership subscription program is now in place! (You may notice the fancy new banner ad about it on the home page, echoed below.)
Part of that delay was thinking up something that didn’t encroach on the benefits we gave our Founders. Those folks helped us get started and deserve the exclusivity of the perks they got. The other part of the delay is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. (However, for you guys, I’m willing to be cloned.)
We have utilized the popular Buy Me a Coffee platform to run this program. You can find the basics here. The Mane Land premium membership program includes three tiers of membership, as well as the option to click on the “Support” tab for those who just want to help us out whenever, without joining the program or adding any recurring “appointment-based” payments to their budgets. We love that feature of Buy Me a Coffee (or “Buy Us a Beer” in our case…you drink what you like).
For those who do choose to become members, we hope we have provided value and we are planning to add benefits along the way, in addition to providing special giveaways, events, etc. (more on that below). We have also provided subscription options — with monthly or annual memberships. The annual cost essentially gives you 12 months for the price of 10.
The current membership benefits depend on which level of support you choose — Homegrown Player, TAM Player, or Designated Player level. Each level includes all benefits from the lower tiers, with additional benefits for each higher level.
Homegrown Player: This is a basic set-it-and-forget-it level of support for The Mane Land, providing a way for our readers and podcast listeners to contribute to the success of TML‘s independence goals. We want to compensate our current volunteers, replace lost income of those who previously received small stipends from being part of the SBNation network, add photographers, attract new writers, and expand our coverage. Additionally, each Homegrown Player Level member will be recognized in a Lion Links column, which is still typically our most widely read post of each day and one of the top daily links columns among soccer sites. Homegrown Player Level members will also be included in any future prize drawings we have or events we host and may be subject to future benefits as they are added.
TAM Player: In addition to Homegrown Player benefits, TAM Players will receive a new weekly e-newsletter in their inbox (unless you opt out…some people hate email). These will be informal missives from myself, other TML writers, or a combination, discussing what’s on our mind regarding Orlando City, the Pride, OCB, or soccer in general. Think of it as an extra post from our site that may cover multiple topics. Additionally, you’ll get a 10% discount from our web shop items that we control (presently, that means everything except our listed MLS Shop items). We will definitely have more benefits coming for this level soon and will look for opportunities to include additional benefits as they become available.
Designated Player: This limited availability level of support includes all perks from the Homegrown and TAM levels, but it goes beyond. Your discount at our webshop (for items we control) will be 15% off. Additionally, we’ll send you Zoom links to watch us “make the doughnuts” whenever we record the podcast. This includes when we interview guests. You’ll see how the sausage is made behind the scenes and everything that we say, some of which will end up on the cutting room floor before the final podcast is sent out. This includes both The Mane Land PawedCast and SkoPurp Soccer: An Orlando Pride PawedCast. And after two months of membership you can commission a bonus episode of either podcast simply by letting us know what topic you want us to cover. Think of this as an extended Ask Us Anything. We’ll do a whole show about your topic and you can even join us to discuss it if you wish.
The DP Level will certainly have additional benefits tacked on as we move forward. It is currently limited to 40 members but could be expanded slightly depending on demand and our Zoom attendance.
Future Benefits / Benefits Under Consideration
While we won’t be able to schedule these due to the random nature of items falling into our hands, there will be periodic prize giveaways in drawings that include all of our members, regardless of level. The catch is that you get one entry per level of support, meaning Homegrown Player Level members will get one entry per prize drawing, TAM Player Level members will get two entries per drawing, and Designated Player Level members get three entries for prize drawings. Some of the kinds of items we have come across in the past include match tickets, trinkets, posters, scarves, and so on.
We are planning to add a message board to our website, well…soon-ish is the word that comes to mind. The plan for the message board is to build our community and further the discussion about the club. As part of this, we’re planning an exclusive, members-only area of that message board that TAM and DP members can access. This will be a place our staff can share informational nuggets we can’t necessarily write stories about for various reasons and interact with our members on a daily basis.
Other things in the works include meet-and-greets/watch parties where you can chat with TML staff members and catch a road match with a bunch of like-minded Orlando City/Pride fans while we all cheer on the team together. There may also be other informal outings with one or more members of the staff, organized fantasy leagues, random Zoom calls for Q&A sessions, and perhaps even some organized group outings for Orlando City / Pride matches, national team games, etc.
The Most Important Part of This Post
Remember at the top of this post, when I said the most important part is at the bottom? Well, that seems like a long time ago, now, so it’s OK if you’ve already forgotten.
The most important part of our membership program is you. We want your feedback so we can make this program something that interests and excites you. We want to know what you like and dislike about this program. We want to know if there are some things we didn’t think of that interest you. If you like what we’re offering, tell us! If you hate what we’re offering, we want to know what you’d prefer instead or in addition. If you want to go drinking with Dave, we can probably arrange that, but it’ll be a unique tier and we’ll have to figure out the cost of that.
No idea is too crazy to suggest, even if it’s too insane for us to actually offer. Let us know what you want from your subscription and we’ll see if that’s something we can do. We’ll make it easy for you by putting the form right here below this post, which is now concluded.
Where do I even start? When we were told in January that SBNation was pulling its support of The Mane Land and other MLS and NHL blogs — and many podcasts — I was devastated. The site had become my new baby in September of 2014 and after eight and a half years, I wasn’t ready to let it go.
I was in a pickle. I couldn’t afford to lose the monthly stipend I had been getting from SBNation to manage the site and provide a steady stream of content. It wasn’t that it was a huge monthly sum, but it mostly covered my car payment. That car was purchased when my salary was higher. The pandemic hit my day job like it did to many, and after a four-month layoff, I got my old job back but not at the same rate. So, imagine taking a pay decrease at work and then, on top of that, losing the amount you spend per month on your car payment. There was simply no way to launch The Mane Land independently, I thought, because I simply couldn’t cover the startup costs. Even with some generous offers from the staff to pitch in, there simply wasn’t a way.
Once we took the news public, there was an outpouring of support on social media. We appreciated both the pledges to help out that we got from the community and the signal boosting that the national media gave blogs like ours. Those national folks rely on local reporting for background.
Encouraged by this outpouring of public support, I met with the TML staff and we threw some ideas around. We polled our Twitter followers to see how our community would prefer to show their support. We got pretty close to a 50/50 split between those who wanted to provide a one-time donation via a Kickstarter or GoFundMe crowdsourcing effort, and those who would prefer some sort of premium subscription add-on service like Patreon or Buy Me a Coffee.
We didn’t get a lot of responses to that poll, but we decided as a group that since the results were so similar, we would offer both and let the public choose one path, the other, or even both. (Stay tuned for news soon-ish on the premium subscription level, but rest assured, everything you’ve been getting for free at TML will remain free!)
I was, admittedly, skeptical that we could raise enough startup money to create a private business, pay for hosting a new site and two podcasts (having long wanted to give the Orlando Pride their own unique show), registering a domain, paying for some design work and consulting, and any unexpected expenses that might come up. However, I thought we’d at least give it a try.
Then the amazing Orlando City, Orlando Pride, and TML community got involved. You guys pushed us past our bare minimum goal in just four and a half hours when our fundraiser went live on March 1. We reset our goal and you met that by midnight. We reset our goal again, to the dream total we discussed on our initial staff Zoom chat and you met that by that first weekend.
Stunned. Humbled. Amazed. Touched. All of these words apply to how that made us feel, but they don’t quite cover it. I think we all felt an enormous responsibility, as well. We felt a mandate to provide you the best site and the best coverage we can.
We got everything we needed to run the site for two years, even if we don’t earn a penny after our launch — and we plan to try, via advertising, a Patreon (or similar) program, an online shop, affiliate links, and anything else we can think of. But we decided to leave the GoFundMe open through the end of March, just in case there were folks who wanted to contribute but needed to wait for payday, or if more people wanted to become founding members of this new site.
Now, here we are. You guys did this. We’re here because of you. And this site isn’t quite what it will become. I’m still learning my way around WordPress, after being away from it for years. There’s more to build, and some of the things you’re seeing on this site now will be improved in the future. We’ll continue to tweak it, add things, and upgrade as we go.
For now, I just want to welcome you to your new online home. On behalf of our entire staff, I thank our founding members, who are now immortalized on this site in our founders section. If you weren’t able to contribute to our transition from SBNation’s network to an autonomous and independent, new version of The Mane Land, you can thank the folks on our founders page, because without them, we wouldn’t be here. And if you still want to help out, we’ve got more things on the way.
PawedCast Episode 397: Cavalry FC Rewind, CF Montreal Preview, and More
Wide Players Made the Difference in Victory Over Cavalry FC
Lion Links: 2/23/24
Lion Links: 2/19/24
Orlando City vs. Cavalry FC, Concacaf Champions Cup: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals
Opinion2 weeks ago
Duncan McGuire Staying in Orlando Benefits All Parties (Except Blackburn)
Lion Links2 weeks ago
Lion Links: 2/9/24
Orlando City B2 weeks ago
Orlando City B Announces Schedule for 2024 MLS NEXT Pro Season
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City Officially Announces Luis Muriel Signing
Lion Links1 week ago
Lion Links: 2/13/24
Lion Links2 weeks ago
Lion Links: 2/12/24
Orlando Pride2 weeks ago
Five Questions About the Orlando Pride in 2024
Lion Links4 days ago
Lion Links: 2/19/24