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Staff Roundtable Week 7: Orlando City at New York Red Bulls



The Lions head out on the road for two consecutive games, hoping to wash off the stink of the 93rd-minute decision that decreed Servando Carrasco’s arm begins at the Orlando City crest on the left side of his chest in Sunday’s 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution. As much of a howler as that error was — and it was the worst of at least three decisions that affected scoring plays — the Lions find themselves entering this weekend tied for second in the Eastern Conference.

We’ll see the Revs again next week, but first up is a trip to Red Bull Arena to take on last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners. The last time City invaded New York’s pitch it left with a 5-2 victory, a Cyle Larin hat trick, and three points. Joining us to discuss whether that could happen again are Wade Williams, Scott Crumbly, and Logan Oliver. We welcome all of them to the big, round, purple table to get their view of life in Lion Nation.

Probably the less said about the New England game the better, but the Lions did turn the game with the insertion of Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino, dropping Julio Baptista underneath the striker and pushing Kaká out to the left. Did we just get a glimpse of Orlando’s best attacking lineup?

Wade: Possibly, but it's still very early to expect the 34-year-old Baptista to match that production over the course of a full MLS season. The glimpse we got was certainly promising — especially given it allows Rivas and Winter to slide into the substitution roles I've long screamed are the best fit for them — but I'm not ready to say it's the best lineup. Not yet, at least.

Scott: I obviously want to avoid any recency bias or overreaction to a small sample size, but I'm going to say yes. Kaká was consistently dangerous from the left side of the pitch, and putting your best player in the best position to optimize his talents is, in my humble opinion, a smart thing to do.

Julio Baptista still didn’t look quite fit enough to play the full 90, although he huffed and puffed his way through, but I think the combination of he and Cyle Larin gives the Lions the most firepower up front, where attacking midfielders like Kevin Molino and Adrian Winter have flashed, but failed to show truly consistent finishing ability. Having The Beast on with Kid Fantastic puts two goal scorers up front, which would hopefully alleviate some of the scoring burden that has often been on Larin during his short career in purple. With this setup, Molino and Kaká can work their trademark chemistry, and the energy and pace of players like Winter and Carlos Rivas is saved for impact roles off the bench, where they’re able to have game-changing impacts from the hour or 70-minute mark on, rather than starting in the first XI.

Logan: Baptista's emergence is definitely a pleasant surprise. The concept of him playing off of Larin is a tempting one, but not every right back Kaká goes up against will be a tiring London Woodberry. If Heath moves forward with Kaká on the left, it will be interesting to see if he can handle the duties of a winger for 90 minutes.

We got our first glimpse of Kevin Alston in purple on Sunday, filling in for an injured Rafael Ramos. Based on Ramos’ season so far, did Alston do enough in that match to warrant keeping him in the lineup even when Rafa comes back from the hamstring injury?

Scott: Ramos has certainly had a slower start to the season than I had anticipated, which is disappointing, but the 21-year-old is still Orlando's highest-ceiling option at right back. I don't think that Alston's performance, while certainly not a bad one, merits a promotion to the starting lineup over a healthy Ramos unless the Portuguese struggles for a prolonged stretch following his return from his hamstring tweak.

Logan: He did a solid job on defense and almost got himself a goal, things we haven't seen from Rafa so far in 2016. He deserves to start until he loses the spot, but even if Rafa comes back into the lineup straightaway, Alston will probably see plenty of minutes thanks to suspensions.

Wade: I like the addition of Alston, and I think he’s more versatile and an improvement over Corey Ashe from last season. However, Rafael Ramos is this club’s starting right back. He’s slumped horribly in the early stretch, but I don’t think benching him long term is the solution. He’s a talented kid with some insane athletic gifts, I look forward to him finding his form again.

The last time Larin went to Red Bull Arena, he bagged a hat trick. He has seven goals in three trips to New York. Why does he play so well there and does he keep that streak going even though New York will be paying close attention to him?

Logan: Larin's hat trick in Red Bull Arena last season was largely thanks to the Carlos Rivas Show, but these Red Bulls don't look like the Supporters' Shield winners of last season. Their defense hasn't been great, so even if they do key on him I think Larin bags a brace this weekend, but only if he listens to Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" as he steps out of the airport. At least I assume that's what he does. (Editor's note: Ugh.)

Wade: Kid Fantastic plays well there because, first and foremost, he's an extremely talented player. The Red Bulls are a bit small on the back line, though, and that surely helps the big, strong kid work in the box. I like to think he plays extra hard in the state just to keep those loud-mouthed Yankees as quiet as possible.

The Red Bulls defense has been terrible so far, allowing 15 goals already. Look for Larin to score six — the amount of slices you get from one of those overrated NY pizzas. If New Yorkers would shove more of that garbage in their mouth every time they wanted to talk about soccer, we'd have world peace.

Scott: "It's a nice place to play in New York. I think every time I go there I get excited and I put the ball in the back of the net."

Those words from Larin prior to Orlando's trip to face NYCFC in mid-March pretty much explain it all: New York is a nice place to play, he gets excited and, ipso facto, goals ensue. Even in that match at Yankee Stadium last month, Larin's excitement couldn't be curtailed by an illness, with the Canadian scoring the eventual winner early on an effective, if unorthodox, header.

Other than the excitement factor and the big city lights, however, I do think Larin finds the net against NYRB. He looked dangerous last Sunday off the bench and, assuming he's fit enough to start this week, I expect his work to pay off against a Red Bulls team that will struggle with his strength and has conceded two or more goals in six of its seven matches, including two three-goal showings.

There have been a lot of curious decisions from referees in Orlando City’s matches this season. Can we finally get through a game without any controversy on Sunday?

Wade: Unless we joined a new league overnight, or a new referee union is being used, the answer is an easy no. In no major North American sport are the officials this bad. Even in combat sports, where officials are employed by local athletic commissions and not the leagues themselves (IE UFC, Bellator, etc), the officials are far more competent. If I can tell you with a straight face that Steve Mazzagatti is better at his job than you are at yours, you should take that as the ultimate insult. That's worse than slapping your mother. That's worse than pissing in your cheerios. Those are fighting words.

At the end of the day, bad officiating really doesn't bother me — as long as it's consistently bad. I don't want to see garbage offside calls against one team and garbage handball calls against the other. If you consistently suck at properly reading an offside call, then at least I know that you consistently suck at properly reading an offside call the other way, too.

But when you blow your whistle and then seemingly try to come up with a reason why, before a stadium full of fans breaks out into chants about the line of work you truly belong in, it becomes painfully obvious, painfully quickly, that you're in over your head. And that is something we should all refuse to accept from our officials.

Scott: Much has been written, on this site and elsewhere across the Internet, about the ineptitude of PRO refs. I've decided to hop on board with our boy Jeff Milby who has proposed that we stop trying to hold PRO to any kind of reasonable standard, as we'll only wind up disappointed. Accept the chaos for what it is at this point, because it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. All this being said: I can't imagine the controversy matches the levels we saw last week (although it can't be ruled out with PRO), but something wacky will more than likely occur. Let's just hope that the soccer gods are feeling generous and that whatever it is, it benefits the Lions.

Logan: Given that Hilario Grajeda has the match, I doubt we see anything too out of the ordinary. There will be some questionable calls but I don't think he'll decide the outcome of the match.

What’s the key match-up on Sunday and how do you see Orlando City at New York Red Bulls unfolding?

Scott: Handling Dax McCarty will be key for Orlando City this week. Hopefully, Cristian Higuita will be ready to play for Orlando, coming off a groin injury, because the play of he and Darwin Cerén in the middle of the park will be very important to limit McCarty’s time on the ball, where he acts as NYRB’s engine and pulls strings for his teammates up the field. If Higuita can’t go, one or both of Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco can be included here, and they’ll need to keep McCarty from dictating the game in the midfield, as the back line will have its hands full tracking runs by Bradley Wright-Phillips in behind.

Logan: The major issue will be if City’s back line can handle the attacking threats that the Red Bulls possess. They looked shaky against the Revolution for the entire match and Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, and Felipe are a little more intimidating than a lonesome Lee Nguyen. There will be goals in this one, but I think City edge it out 3-2 with some late magic.

Wade: It's all about the kid against the back line. NYRB has struggled all season, they can't score goals, and they can't stop them, either. Larin should look to strike early and often, getting Orlando ahead and letting the Red Bulls crumble from within under the pressure yet again.

Bonus: What's your attendance prediction for the Orlando Pride vs. Houston Dash on Saturday at the Citrus Bowl? Will the club break the NWSL attendance record of just over 21K? What's your ballpark number?

Logan: I think they get there but it'll be close. I'm hopeful for 23k.

Wade: I'm probably the least knowledgeable member of The Mane Land when it comes to the Pride. I would imagine they'll get at least 15K — the promo work around the city and on social media hasn't been lost on me, this city is clearly a soccer city first and foremost, and the best woman on the planet is a helluva draw. I hope the fans do manage to break the league record. At the least, they'll get up to around 75% of it.

Scott: Both #FillTheBowl campaigns thus far have succeeded, so I don't doubt what this city can do when it comes to painting the Citrus Bowl purple. I'll venture to say that the Pride draw just enough to break the record, with a total shot-in-the-dark guess of 23k.

* * *

And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 7 as Orlando City prepares for a date with the Red Bulls and the Pride get set to host their first ever home match. My personal thought is that the Pride will draw closer to 30,000 than 20,000. Call me optimistic.

Feel free to add your answers to the questions above 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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