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Staff Roundtable Week 9: Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls



Orlando City looks to snap its four-game winless skid Friday night in a revenge match against the New York Red Bulls at Camping World Stadium. These teams just met two weeks ago in New Jersey, with the Red Bulls getting the better of the Lions, 3-2. Orlando must look to get something out of this match and stay in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

The Lions are coming off a 2-2 draw at New England, earning a point with a dramatic finish. In this week's roundtable discussion, we'll take a final look back at the draw against the Revs, peak ahead to Friday's showdown with NYRB, and give some time to the Pride as well. Taking their seats at the big purple table this week are Rich Shock, David Rohe, and Austin Siegel.

Last year, the Lions seemed to play better on the road than at home in the early stages of the season. In 2016, the team looks like a bag of nerves away from home, even when it grinds out points. What is the difference on the road this year and is this going to get fixed?

Rich: The biggest difference this year is that the Lions are missing a player to step on the ball in the midfield to slow the game down and provide confidence and poise to the rest of the squad. Nocerino hasn't yet lived up to his billing, and Higuita, Ceren, and Carrasco aren't possession-keeping midfielders. While this is no longer Kaká's game, and Molino hasn't looked comfortable in this role, Orlando City needs to figure out some way to generate possession in the midfield or change its tactics in order to hide or work around this weakness. The Lions also haven't seemed terribly confident at home, but it's hard to be confident when the other team always has the ball.

David: The difference is Kaká. In three of the four away matches, Kaká was not on the field. The one away game he was in, Larin, Shea and Higuita were all out. It may just be an injury/depth problem. Orlando City addressed some depth issues from last year, but some of those new players are still adjusting to the team. Having players available to allow for lineup adjustments will help. Additionally, I'm not sure that it's a difference in play away rather than how we're playing at home. Last year we were 2-4-2 through eight games (0-3-1 at home, and 2-1-1 away). This year, we're 2-2-4 through eight games (1-0-3 at home and 1-2-1 away). Orlando City is playing better at home this year and that has made a difference in the standings thus far.

Austin: I think Orlando’s struggles away from home actually have more to do with the team’s health than nerves. In their four road games this season, the Lions have never had both Kaká and Cyle Larin available for selection and it’s shown in their offensive production. While Larin’s hamstring injury appears to be in the past, Kaká is at a point in his career where missing games here and there looks like it’s going to be the norm.

Orlando City is winless in four matches now, despite earning points in three of those four. It's still fairly early in the season, but is Friday a must-win at home for the Lions? Why or why not?

David: There's a one-point difference between fourth and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. Orlando City needs the win to maintain position, or the Lions could very quickly find themselves down three to four spots in the standings. Could they overcome such a drop? Of course, but let's not make the season any harder than it needs to be. The real reason the Lions need the win is simply mental. With no win in four matches, getting three points would be a great way to start May in a positive state of mind. Additionally, Orlando City plays the Red Bulls three times, and we're already down one game. We need this one to be able to have a positive record against the Red Bulls this season.

Austin: It's hard to believe in must-win games after watching Orlando drop countless matches that appeared to doom their postseason chances in 2015, before almost sneaking in at the end. So no, this Friday's match is not a must-win game. But at this point in the season, the Lions' only goal should be staying in playoff position and that's only going to happen with three points on Friday.

Rich: Friday is not a must-win game for the Lions, mostly because the Eastern Conference is tightly packed and it doesn't seem like anyone is a dominant force. Orlando, without playing very well thus far, is in a pretty good position at this point in the season and will set itself up well if it can continue to grab points at the end of games. That sort of resiliency and grit will put the Lions a step ahead of their opponents if and when they make the playoffs.

I won’t ask about his confidence level, because that always seemed high, but now that Carlos Rivas has found the back of the net in MLS play, will he see more of the field? Has your opinion of him changed? If so, how?

Austin: I've always seen Rivas as a guy who can provide valuable depth and production off the bench, but his play on Saturday showed just why Orlando City was so high on the 22-year-old when they plucked him from Deportivo Cali in 2014. That being said, Rivas finds himself in a crowded attacking midfield and will have to continue his offensive production if he hopes to carve out an expanded role.

Rich: Carlos Rivas has played well, but he probably won't see more of the field. Rivas isn't better than a healthy Kaká or Molino and will most likely settle into his role as a "super-sub" who comes on late in games to stretch the opponent's defense. Teams in close games will not be excited to see Rivas/Winter/Baptista checking in. The perception of Rivas hasn't changed — and shouldn't change — just because of last week's game; simply put, he is finally turning into the player we thought he'd be.

David: Carlos Rivas will see more of the field, but I don't think he'll start this week. Rivas alternates between showing us why he has the Young Designated Player tag, and at other times just making you just shake your head. I do think he is growing and learning, though perhaps not as quickly as Orlando City fans had hoped. In the one match he started, he had two shots, committed two fouls, and suffered three fouls. His goal against New England was preceded by a yellow card a mere four minutes earlier. He's fast, he can score, and he's got a good cross from the left, but he's still doesn't know when to use that aggressiveness. He already has two yellow cards in only 127 minutes of play. Let's hope his development can match his pace up the field.

Looking ahead to Friday night, the Red Bulls completely swamped Orlando City’s midfield two weeks ago and made the Timbers look awful this past weekend. How do the Lions cope with a suddenly confident NYRB squad?

Rich: To counter NYRB’s newfound confidence, the Lions should press high up the field. Take the game out of the midfield, pressure New York’s back line and force it to make a mistake. If Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos can get into the attacking third and get dangerous balls into the midfield (yes, a tall task — especially for Ramos), the Lions can change the shape of the game and take some punch out of a potent midfield. The downside, of course, is that sort of tactic backfires if and when Shea/Ramos and the rest of the gang can’t get anything going from those areas all while leaving the midfield exposed. If the Lions do head into a formation and tactic that favors the wide areas, they have to do so with confidence, swagger, and the belief that this is their game and their strength.

David: NYRB are playing well, but our last game against them wasn't without controversy. Our midfield play was poor, but Adrian Heath said he expects Kaká to be available for Friday's match, and that will make a difference. Cyle Larin should be back to full strength, and he has consistently been a challenge for the Red Bulls.

Austin: Kaká's return should help, but New York is firing on all cylinders and it's going to take a complete team effort for the Lions to get a win on Friday. Also, there's at least a 50/50 shot that Aurélien Collin scores four goals against his former club. In all seriousness, I think Orlando is a better defensive team than they showed in their first meeting against NYRB and any improvement is going to start from there.

What are your match predictions? What's the key match-up and what's your predicted final score?

David: On offense it will start in the midfield and will then depend on how well we get the ball in to Larin. If we're able to go wide (perhaps with Rivas on the left), Larin could have another big day. On defense, I expect Bendik to continue his solid play in goal, though some help from the back line would be nice. Orlando City hasn't lost at home so far this season, and I expect that to continue, though three points might be too much to ask for. This one ends in a 2-2 draw…again.

Austin: I'll save this for my Match Preview on Friday. [Editor's note: this is what we call a "tease."]

Rich: 2-0 NYRB. Goals from Klejstan and Grella. The Lions need a big game out of Higuita and Cerén, but don't get it. Bendik stands on his head again but mistakes in the back of the team cost the Lions in the long run. Also, the late game magic has to take a week off at some point.

Pride Time

After a close road loss to Portland and a big win over Houston, the team kind of took a step back with a 1-0 shutout loss at the Chicago. Were you surprised that without Julie Johnston the Red Stars were able to hold Alex Morgan at bay?

Austin: It's tough to judge the Pride so early in their inaugural season, but I don't think the loss to Chicago was all that surprising. First of all, the weather here in the Midwest takes no prisoners, but I can see why the Orlando had trouble with the Red Stars. After their first game in team history and first home game in team history, this was always going to be an easy match to look past. Even without Julie Johnston, Chicago is still a playoff team led by USMNT members Christen Press, Alyssa Naeher and reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Danielle Colaprico. In FiveThirtyEight's NWSL season preview, the Red Stars were picked to finish third and compete for a playoff spot, while the Pride landed all the way in ninth. Tough loss on the road, but I think Orlando will bounce back.

Rich: The first thing any team playing against the Pride will write on its white board is: "Shut down Alex Morgan." It's not very surprising that an expansion team with players who have had less than two months together is struggling — for stretches — to get anything going offensively. It's also not very surprising that teams are daring other Pride players to beat them. Until the rest of the team shows how dangerous they can be, teams won't change their tactics.

David: I am surprised that Alex Morgan wasn't able to make something happen for the Pride, but occasionally that's just how it goes. Sometimes a player gets an opportunity to show what they are capable of, and Katie Naughton was that player for Chicago. And it wasn't just Naughton, as the entire Red Stars defense seemed to be ready and dedicated to denying Morgan this game.

What must the Pride do differently to get a result against the Seattle Reign on Sunday?

Rich: The Pride need to generate offense from somewhere else. Beating a team that has Hope Solo as its goalie is tough enough as is and the Pride won't be able to rely on quick restarts to get their goals. They will have to generate offense through movement off the ball, runs through the open spaces in the defense, and a possession-based game that lulls the Reign to sleep before finding that ball that puts someone in on goal.

David: I expect Alex Morgan will get back to form and get another goal. That alone will help, though the defense needs to step up a bit. Ashlyn Harris will continue her excellent performance in goal, but she shouldn't have to make so many outstanding plays. Rumor is Trump has asked Bendik and Harris about walls. The Pride are in their first year, so there will be growing pains. Sermanni will have to try out lineups, and the players will have to get to know each other. We saw it last year with the Lions, and the Pride are no different. Seattle is a premiere team in NWSL, but if the Pride can put the pieces together, there's no reason they can't come away with some points.

Austin: While Orlando dominated possession against Chicago, the Pride were stymied by an impressive performance from Naeher. Things won't get any easier against Hope Solo and the Seattle Reign, but they are some reasons for optimism. Jasmyne Spencer continued her hot start against the Red Stars and Sara Hagan looked impressive in her first start of the season. This weekend's match should be a great measuring stick for this team.

* * *

And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 9 as Orlando City prepares for a date with the Red Bulls and the Pride get set to host a very good Seattle Reign squad.

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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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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