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Orlando City at Mid-Season: Our TML Staff Roundtable Discussion



As Orlando City prepares to embark on the second half of its inaugural Major League Soccer season tomorrow night at Real Salt Lake, it’s time to gather up the lads and discuss the first half. I posed some questions to our staff to get their individual takes on what we’ve seen so far through 17 MLS matches from our Lions.

Chiming in with their hot takes are Mane Land writers Kevin Mercer, Kyle Foley, Brent Petkus and Gavin Ewbank. It seems like these guys are often on the same page, although not always unanimous in their answers. See if you agree with their takes:

Who is your Orlando City Player of the Season so far, and why?

Kevin: Kaká. While there are a number of exceptional candidates — Cyle Larin, Aurélien Collin, and Darwin Cerén to name a few. The difference between these players and Kaká has been his ability to have a positive effect on every game he's played in, even on an off night. Injuries and numerous international call-ups have challenged other players to jump into the season as solidly as Kaká has. With that said, I still think we haven't seen the best from him.

Kyle: For me, the player of the season so far is Kaká. I know that may be the cliché answer, but despite a few lackluster performances, the way he has led the team through it all has been fantastic. On and off the field, Orlando City could not have a better captain.

Brent: This is a tough one because there were a lot of deserving players. The player of the season at the halfway point is Aurélien Collin. Collin has been an anchor on the back line and he has kept the back four organized. I think we all knew going into the season Kaká was going to be a focal point of the team, but our defense was something of a question mark. Collin has stepped in and given the team a leadership presence on the back line. During matches you can see him talking to his midfielders and making sure their positioning is correct. There were many games during the first half of the season that Collin was the Man of the Match because of his timely tackles and leadership.

Gavin: This is a tough one because no one player really stood out miles above the rest, but if I had to pick one I'd say it's Cyle Larin. This kid didn't get his first chance to start until more than a month into the season, and he hasn't yet shown me why he shouldn't be the team's starting forward. He's scoring for his club and he's scoring for his country. I'm excited to see how he continues to grow as a player.

What's your defining game of the season's first half?

Kyle: Easily the thrashing of the defending champions, LA Galaxy. For a team that many said wouldn’t belong in MLS, this game showed that we do belong and can contend (and demolish) the best. The nice streak it put us on was good, too.

Brent: The defining game for me was home against the New England Revolution on May 8. New England had a seven-game unbeaten streak coming into Orlando. Orlando was down 2-0 after a dismal pass back by Rafael Ramos. The young Portuguese defender didn’t have a meltdown like he did few weeks prior against Columbus. He came back served an excellent ball to Cyle Larin and the Orlando comeback was on. The Citrus Bowl was electric and Orlando pushed the play for the last 20 minutes, finally setting up Collin’s equalizer. That game for me eased Orlando City’s nerves at home and set up the LA Galaxy 4-0 win.

Gavin: My defining game of the first half has to be the 2-2 draw at home against the New England Revolution in May — that was the game that really jump-started the team's great run of form over the past two months. Down 2-0 at home, where they hadn't won a game all season, they showed a lot of fight to come back in the game and get the draw. Of course the very next week they beat the LA Galaxy 4-0 at home.

Kevin: May 8, the 2-2 tie with the New England Revolution. It was the first game the Lions showed teeth and fought for something when the game seemed out of reach. Down two goals to the defending Eastern Conference champs, who came into the Citrus Bowl in fantastic form. After going down two with 73 minutes to go, nobody would have faulted the Lions for declaring it wasn't their night and enduring another loss. The club showed both the character the supporters expect from them and their willingness to play every minute of the game. It set up the club to continue fighting for success and put them into the playoff hunt that they are in now.

One position Orlando has to upgrade in the July transfer window is…?

Brent: Outside back/outside midfielder. Orlando City’s depth can be exposed here if we get an injury to Ramos or Boden. Tyler Turner needs more time to develop and isn’t ready to be put in the lineup. Outside midfield is an issue as well. We will be seeing more Carlos Rivas but, who else? I might be a little apprehensive of signing Chicharito because it means less playing time for Larin or Pedro Ribeiro. However, Chicharito is a world class player and if he wants to play in MLS, I want him wearing purple and white.

Gavin: Well, I’ve pretty much gotten full on board with the whole “Chicharito-to-Orlando” rumors, but forward’s not really an area of need. I think they definitely need to add a defender at center back or, even more so, someone that can play both center and fullback. But going for an upgrade, I think they need to add a midfielder on the wing that can play over Lewis Neal and Eric Avila on the right side — someone that can step in and play the creative winger role left by Kevin Molino.

Kevin: As a team still on the build, this is tricky. We may have the parts we need still trying to find their way into the team. To pinpoint one position, I’d say right midfield. Rafael Ramos has been dangerous on that wing, but he needs a running mate — somebody who can work with him, Kaká, Cerén, and Larin to emulate the threats coming from the left side with Luke Boden and Brek Shea.

Kyle: It's easy to say the striker position, especially with the Chicharito rumors, but I actually think we need to add some quality to the wings. Without Kevin Molino, we are having a hard time getting anything done on the right side. Larin, Pedro, and Rochez (not to mention Mwanga and Pato for now) give us plenty of options up top.

One tactical change you'd like to see in the second half of the season?

Gavin: Tactically, I think the team has been pretty sound this season. I wanted to see Carlos Rivas start to get more involved and now that Brek Shea is going to be out for at least a few weeks with a groin injury, Rivas will get consistent starts.

Kevin: As good as Ramos and Boden have been on the offensive end, they both end up being exposed at times in the back. I think you have to keep them involved in the attack. The wrinkle they provide in the attack is a crucial part of Adrian Heath's plans. At the same time, we have to cover that vulnerability on the wings and learn the limits of pushing these players into the attack. Teams have not exploited those wings yet, but I feel it's only a matter of time that a few coaches watching our tapes will realize we have two players who, despite loads of talent and hustle, are still inexperienced at the MLS level.

Kyle: I want to see the younger players getting some more action. I cringe every time I see one of our defenders go down because as much as I love Turner and Redding and Con-Don, they just haven't played enough to convince me that they would be able to come in and contribute on the MLS level yet.

Brent: Tactically I love the style of play Orlando plays. It is extremely entertaining and sets up well for the team's roster. The 4-2-3-1 formation has been excellent on pushing teams to the outside and minimizing dangerous chances up the middle of the field. They have to get better at defending set pieces. These are small moments in the match they have to win. They were punished in games where they dictated the play for the majority of the game only to give up a set piece goal late.

What's your overall assessment of the transition from USL to MLS so far?

Kevin: It has been a bit of a roller coaster so far to be honest. MLS parity is nothing like being overpowered in the USL. At midseason, I see things leveling out and we are starting to have the season we all expected we'd be having. I think from a supporter's perspective, our USL success made dealing with the early realities of life in MLS a little harder than any of us expected.

Kyle: I would say it has been as smooth as it could have been. We had a few bumps in the road at the beginning but as of late the team has shown they are a definite contender in the league. I am only worried about how they will fare later in the season.

Brent: The MLS expansion draft helps set up teams to not be bottom table teams in their first year. Orlando was savvy with some moves for Hall and Collin but, as for the USL players, they have fared well. Boden, Ramos, and Cerén have been in the starting lineup for most of the season and have done an excellent job making the jump to the top league. Overall, I think USL teams in the future will use Orlando City as a blueprint on how to take their team to MLS.

Gavin: I know that being an Orlando City fan I should have expected them to come in and win every trophy they play for this year, but I've actually been pretty surprised with what the team has been able to accomplish this season. We figured coming in that the East would be weak enough for the Lions to contend in the conference, but it's turned out to be a lot closer than expected. That's going to make for a great final month or two of the season, but so far this team has #DefiedExpectations.

Judging from what you've seen in the first 17 games, is this a playoff team? If so, how far do you think the Lions can push into the playoffs?

Kyle: Not only is this a playoff team, this is a team that can win the title. I know part of that is the fan in me but when the team comes together, nothing has been able to stop them. Either through the U.S. Open Cup or MLS Playoffs, Orlando City will be bringing a trophy back into town and we will see them in the CONCACAF Champions League. Big goals for an expansion team but they have been able to defy expectations so far.

Brent: Orlando is (tied in points for) third in the Eastern Conference and the way they are moving the ball and scoring this team is a playoff team. They can go as far as their defending will take them. If Collin can get healthy, the combination of him and St. Ledger bring experience to the back line. The true litmus test for Orlando is coming with two difficult games on the road against Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders. This team has the ability to make a run in the MLS Cup and I see them hosting a playoff game and making it to the semifinals of the conference.

Gavin: Yes, this is definitely a playoff team. With the way D.C. United is pulling away I don’t see us having any chance at the Supporters’ Shield at this point, but best case I see them entering the playoffs as a third or fourth seed with the ability to reach at least the Eastern Conference semifinals if they come in playing well.

Kevin: Definitely. The club seem to be growing each week and learning from early season heartbreaks at a blistering pace. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for the hard work it must take to find chemistry and success so early in the season. I think we will land in the playoffs, right around the third, fourth, or fifth spot.

Once we hit the playoffs, it's anybody's game, of course. My prediction is we do well, but there is some heartbreak looming. Maybe a semifinal loss to one of the established clubs that knows how to win these types of playoff games. I think we will get enough of a taste to come back a really hungry team next season.

* * *

So there you have our staff takes. What are your responses to these questions? Let us know in the comments section below.


Reflecting on Eight Years with The Mane Land

A look back over my time with The Mane Land (so far).



Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

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.

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Orlando City

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.)

Supporting TML helps build a better TML for you to enjoy, so you’re really subscribing to your own Orlando soccer fandom.

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.

Current Benefits

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.

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Welcome Home!



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.


Michael Citro
Managing Editor

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