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Staff Roundtable: International Break Bye Week and New York City FC Recap



We've got another 10 days before the next Orlando City game, after the Lions escaped from New York with three points and five from the first three matches of the 2016 MLS season. Next up on the schedule is the defending champion Portland Timbers on Sunday, April 3.

What did we learn about Orlando City against NYCFC and in the first three games of the season? What do we know about Major League Soccer overall? Joining us to discuss this at this week's edition of the roundtable are Kyle Foley, Austin Siegel, and Jeff Milby. It's their turn at the big purple table and it's time for them to answer the questions of the week (although maybe I should have thrown out question three, since everyone answered the same).

Orlando City held off New York City FC despite ceding possession for about the last 70 minutes of the match. How did they do it? Do you think they meant to absorb pressure for so long after grabbing the early lead or was that just a byproduct of being outplayed in the possession game?

Kyle: I think it was part of the game plan as well as a slight byproduct. Orlando knew that after it scored early, it could afford to absorb some pressure but it knew that because the contributing factors (lineup, pitch width, etc.) led it to have to play on the defensive anyway.

Austin: With Kaká on the mend and Antonio Nocerino still learning everyone's name, I think it's only natural that Orlando struggled in the midfield against NYCFC. Whatever plan the Lions had on Friday night probably went out the window when both Cyle Larin and Nocerino were forced to exit early in the second half, but the team's saving grace came in the final 30 minutes. Adrian Winter and Kevin Molino finally generated something on the counter, which kept New York from bringing everyone forward. Factor in Joe Bendik's best game as a Lion, and it was enough for Orlando to grab all three points on Friday night.

Jeff: As a byproduct of building the league on parity, it's especially true in MLS that game states dictate play more than anything. Week after week, you can see winning teams concede the majority of possession to their opponents, which can be explained away with this reason in a major way. Orlando City scored an early goal against NYCFC, and therefore the game state dictated that New York would dominate possession. Throw in the fact that the Lions were on the road, and it only makes sense the possession stats played out as they did. Orlando won a road game the way a road team should. Orlando conceded possession in three of its five road victories last season.

There's been a lot of talk about Kevin Molino's quality in the final third over the first three weeks of the season. Do you see a Kaká return opening up space for him and allowing for more success? Is this a confidence issue? Or, more ominously, is Kevin not yet ready for prime time?

Austin: Kevin Molino just can't catch a break. He came into last season expecting to be Orlando's second attacking option, until his season ended in May. With the emergence of Cyle Larin, he probably expected to be the club's third option going forward in 2016, but found himself leading the offense with three points on the line against New York. I expect the Trinidadian to improve with Orlando City's health, as opposing defenses are forced to key in on Larin and Kaká. He's already shown a knack for finding space around goal, which should only be easier behind a full strength squad.

Jeff: The return of Kaká can only help Molino's situation, but it's not farfetched to think that perhaps he wasn't quite ready for the big lights. Success at the USL level is not a direct harbinger of MLS success (see Matt Fondy in 2015 for an easy example) and that is especially the case when you consider Molino was a star in a fledgling USL. Throw in the injury and his slow start to 2015 is understandable. For my money though, the jury is out until we see him play in a healthy and complete Orlando City midfield.

Kyle: I think having Kaká back will help him a bit, but I believe it's mostly a confidence issue. After his ACL injury, he needs to return to his 2014 form and I believe he will do so when he isn't being counted on as the main facilitator.

Through three games, which Orlando City player is your most pleasant surprise and who has been a bit of a disappointment so far?

Jeff: Tommy Redding has been a pleasant surprise for me. It's not easy to play in MLS at 19 and he has fared reasonably well in his three assignments. Things are looking up for the HGP, and international duty with the U.S. U-19s is only going to help continue his growth and development. As far as disappointments go, I've got to call out Cyle Larin. I really expected the kid to have set the single season scoring record by now (kidding). It's really too early in the season to begin pointing fingers, but Brek Shea has continued to be consistently inconsistent. Granted, we're only three weeks into the summer-long grind that is MLS.

Kyle: Tommy Redding has been beyond impressive, for such a young kid performing at this level, the way he is, is incredibly impressive. Brek Shea has been the biggest disappointment for me. I'm a firm believer that the move to left back is not the best move for him as he's looked inconsistent at best and apathetic at times.

Austin: Tommy Redding has got to be the surprise of the young season, considering he wasn't even guaranteed playing time off the bench when preseason camp opened up. He kept David Villa under control last week (my favorite Orlando City fact of the season: Redding was nine when Villa scored his first World Cup goal) and he's currently playing well enough to keep a former MLS All-Star on the bench in Aurélien Collin. Biggest disappointment has probably been Brek Shea. Injuries have forced him between the attacking midfield and back line, but he hasn't played very well in either spot. Hopefully another USMNT snub will motivate him to improve, but with the exception of his assist against RSL, Shea hasn't been much of a factor this season.

For Orlando City, who benefits the most from this international break and who (if anyone) does it hurt most?

Kyle: I think Kevin Molino benefits the most, with the opportunity to get some time in for Trinidad and Tobago. I also think this week helps Kaká as he isn't being rushed to return to match fitness so quickly.

Jeff: I think it benefits Kevin Molino quite a bit. Being called up to the Trinidad & Tobago squad for a game against St. Vincent & the Grenadines could be the jump-start of form and confidence he needs. On the other side of the coin, the only way this break could harm any of Orlando's players is if the dreaded injury bug lays claim to any of the players on international duty. If anything, the week off gives Orlando more time to heal injuries to Kaká and the recently returned Carlos Rivas, while allowing the team to continue to gel.

Austin: You have to think Kaká benefits the most from the international break, despite the fact that his injury means he'll miss Brazil's WCQ games against Uruguay and Paraguay. Orlando will want the captain at full strength when the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers come to town next week. The break would seem to hurt Cyle Larin's early-season momentum, but since he was playing sick against New York, maybe a trip back home for some WCQs is exactly what the Canadian needs. Even Kevin Molino will get some action with Trinidad and Tobago to help him forget about a disappointing performance against New York. In other words, I don't think the break really hurts anybody.

Clearly three matches in it's hard to take much and extrapolate it over the season, but which teams have caught your eye early in this season? Which teams will turn things around, and who are the MLS pretenders?

Kyle: Montreal has caught my eye, performing well, even without Drogba, so far. I definitely think Seattle will turn things around and San Jose is the biggest pretender.

Austin: Before the season, I thought Chicago and Philadelphia were the only teams in the Eastern Conference that Orlando City didn't have to worry about, but I'm a little worried the Union might be for real. Chris Pontius was a nice off-season pickup, and he's already helped D.C. United go from worst to first before. I think Columbus will shake off its slow start, but I'll go on record and say that either New England or D.C. miss the playoffs this season. United faded down the stretch in 2015 and it looks like they haven't rediscovered their form this year.

Jeff: FC Dallas has continued its strong upward trajectory that started last season and Kansas City is off to a perfect start without the services of last season's team MVP, Benny Feilhaber. Both of those teams should have some considerable staying power at the top of the league standings. The two biggest disappointments have to be Columbus and Seattle. Two teams that made the playoffs last year — with realistic hopes of winning it all — have sunken to the basement of the league table. I believe in Columbus' ability to turn things around, but I'm not a believer in Seattle anymore. It seems Sigi Schmid's window to turn the Sounders into playoff contenders ended last year, and the squad is really feeling the departure of Obafemi Martins.

* * *

That's your roundtable discussion for this early season bye week. Feel free to add your answers to these questions or explain why our staff is right/wrong in their predictions or analysis 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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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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