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Orlando City 2016 Midseason Player Grades



We’ve hit the halfway point in the season for Orlando City and the Lions, through 17 games, sit just just one point under the elusive red line in the Eastern Conference with 21 points and a 4-4-9 record.

While Orlando City hasn't suffered a ton of defeats this season — their four losses are tied for the lowest total in the East — the club's nine draws suggest things could be going a lot better, which has prompted ownership to make the decision to fire Adrian Heath as head coach last week.

So, with the season halfway through, I present to you my midseason grades.


Joe Bendik, 8 (MVP) — The former Toronto FC goalkeeper has started in all 16 games for Orlando City this season, and could not have done a better job at making fans forget about the beloved Tally Hall, who was cut from the club during the offseason. 29 goals against across 17 games doesn’t sound great, but Bendik has been put under a lot of pressure because of back line troubles for Orlando of late and he’s made the most of it to record 60 saves as well.

Earl Edwards Jr., Incomplete — Earl hasn't seen the field much with Bendik playing as well as he has through the first half of the year, but he's looked good when called upon in U.S. Open Cup play and has made a few spot starts for Orlando City B.


Rafael Ramos, 5 — The Portuguese defender may be celebrating his country’s recent Euro 2016 title, but he’s probably not celebrating much about his performance on the field this season. Ramos has only played in 10 games this season due to hamstring injuries that have sidelined him for most of the past two months. And, coming off an off-season in which he signed a new, higher paying contract extension, his play has noticeably slipped from last year, with his attitude getting at best of him at times, in addition to making too many young mistakes in the back.

Kevin Alston, 6.5 — Alston finally got his chance to break into the starting lineup in May and has played more effectively than Ramos. He’s been a better defender, with the occasional slip-up, and moves the ball well forward in the attack, although his crossing could be improved. As far as good MLS backup fullbacks go, Alston is one.

Tommy Redding, 7.5 — The 19-year-old has been outstanding for much of his sophomore season in MLS. Taking on, and holding down, a big name like David Villa on the road early in the season was one of his finer moments, but overall he’s put in a solid campaign. Redding has shown loads of talent and potential to grow into an anchor on the back line for the next few years for Orlando City. He was able to step up and deliver for the club when David Mateos went down with an injury before the start of the season.

David Mateos, 6 — It’s been an up and down season for Mateos, who has been taking a lot of flak from fans for his play recently. For one of the higher salaries on the team, it’s more than fair to say he hasn’t played up to expectations most of the time, but he did play well recently against the Houston Dynamo, and, while I’m not saying that speaks for his entire season, it does mean, contrary to belief, he’s had good games this season. Performance-wise he’s maybe at a 6.5, but after adjusting his rating to the pay scale he’s at an easy 6.

Seb Hines, 6.5 — Prone to the occasional breakdown, Hines has generally played well throughout much of the season, putting in good performances recently against Houston and San Jose, the latter of which may arguably have been his best game of the season. Against the Earthquakes, he also scored one of his two goals in 2016. The expected arrival of Jose Aja will likely mean more competition for Hines, which can only improve the back line play.

Luke Boden, 6 — Boden’s 6 comes from the fact that he’s only played in seven games this season for the Lions, and hasn’t been all too spectacular in those appearances, making this a pretty average season for the backup left back. Boden’s been getting more opportunities lately in the wake of Adrian Winter’s departure, which has Brek Shea playing up on the left wing now, opening the space in the lineup for Bodz to jump in.

Brek Shea, 6.5 — Brek finally scored his first goal with the club earlier this season against the Portland Timbers, and for a guy that scored plenty of goals the last time he was in MLS with FC Dallas, more than a year without a goal is a long time. But that’s pretty much been Brek’s Orlando City career in a nutshell. He’s not a great left back. He gets forward well, but he’s not doing enough to make himself a vital part of the attack. Interim coach Bobby Murphy praised him after the Houston game, and there’s really a lot of times this season where he looked good, but didn’t actually play a role in swinging a result one way or another. An effective Brek Shea can be a real difference maker for this club heading down the stretch.


Harrison Heath, 6.5 — Harrison only started two games all of last season for Orlando (three appearances), and already has two starts this year, both of which have been very impressive outings, to say the least. The 19-year-old was a stud at New York City FC in May, and put in another solid outing against Houston. I feel like being the son of the coach had many people taking Harrison for granted, but he’s really been an impressive young player for Orlando this year with plenty of potential to actually make himself a good player in MLS and beyond. Teammates have called him one of the best passers on the team, and he can show that clearly at times. But there’s still work to be done for this far-from-polished product. I’d love to give Heath a 7, but two games doesn’t fully justify it.

Servando Carrasco, 7 — All things considered, I think this has been a very good campaign for Carrasco in Orlando. He’s easily the most overlooked player on the team, if you ask me. He’s another player I think people take for granted far too much based solely on who he’s married to, but the fact is Carrasco has stepped up and played an important role for the club this season. Never quite the star, but a solid role player. He doesn’t get to see too much time when both Cristian Higuita and Darwin Ceren are healthy and available, but he looked good in his start against San Jose a few weeks ago. A 7 is not saying he’s been the best player on the team, but given his campaign as a whole it’s looking good.

Antonio Nocerino, 4 — It’s been a nightmarish start to his MLS career for Nocerino, who’s been reduced to a bench player since struggling to gain any momentum for the club after leaving AC Milan. His production hasn’t come close to the expensive salary he’s collecting, and tension between him and the fans is starting to grow. His best game to date may well be the club’s most recent Open Cup game against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, but in MLS competition, he’s hardly looked comfortable or adjusted to the league at all. Here’s to hoping he can turn it around before it’s too late.

Cristian Higuita, 6 — Overall, things could be much better for Higuita this season. That's not saying things have been bad, but there are still problems he needs to fix — most notably, he's still getting yellow cards far too often, and that hurts the team when he's forced to play more cautiously or is getting suspended. The Montreal game back in May was maybe one of his most impactful games this season, but in general, Higuita has been the same tackling, hard-nosed force night in and night out for this club, averaging over four tackles per game and close to three interceptions.

Darwin Ceren, 6 — Higuita's partner in crime, Ceren, is also having a pretty suspect year for a guy we expect so much out of. That's not saying he hasn't made an impact alongside Higuita in the defensive midfield, because believe me, this team is without a doubt five times better when they're both on the pitch. Ceren continues to be one of the best passers on the team this season, and he can be a driving force of the offense from the back. He missed a few games back in May and one in June because of a knee injury, but has come back healthy to bolster the Lions' midfield.

Carlos Rivas, 5 — Like Brek, Rivas finally scored his first MLS goal for Orlando City earlier this season, and it was about time. Rivas came to the team young and lacking experience, and was thrown right into the fire. I personally think an upgrade can be made at the left wing position, but as long as Rivas is here he should be playing, because very few people on this team can run like him. He’s a problem for defenders on that left side, and opens up plenty of space with his off-the-ball runs (whenever he stays onside). He’s in the doghouse right now, but hopefully he gets out soon enough to help this team out.

Kevin Molino, 7.5 — I would like to assume that Molino will be in the running for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. After failing to score in any of his eight games last season before his ACL injury, Molino has come back to being the player we all knew so well in the USL. He has six goals with five assists at the halfway point, which is phenomenal for the 26-year-old. A 10-10 season would be the best thing Orlando City could have asked for coming back from injury, and it’s very possible the way he’s been playing. Without Molino, this is a much less creative team, as we saw a lot last season. And not having Kaká for most of the year has already been a big blow.

Kaká, 6 — Speaking of, Kaká's only played nine games this season for the Lions, with several different injuries hampering his second year in the league. Those nine games, however, have seen him produce three goals and five assists, which proves that at the very least he's been productive when healthy (and that's been the main problem). Who's to say where this team could be right now if the Brazilian captain where able to stay on the pitch?


Julio Baptista, 7 — With all of the focus on how bad of a signing Nocerino has been, Baptista has quietly been putting together a very solid campaign for the Lions. The 34-year-old has two goals in 10 games, one of those a monster go-ahead goal at the time against San Jose. He’s been effective at drawing fouls and holding off defenders (which, yeah, he’s huge), and has been a contributing playmaker from the midfield at times. He’s been a solid and perfect backup to Cyle Larin to this point.

Cyle Larin, 7.5 — Which brings me to the young Canadian sophomore, who's followed up his 17-goal breakthrough performance with eight goals and three assists in 15 games this season. Larin continues to show improvement, while still trying to gain the stamina to last 90 minutes. His best game of the year may just be the Montreal game, where he picked up a brace to secure a big three points at home for his side.

Other Incomplete Grades

  • Conor DonovanIn the 18 on multiple occasions, but hasn’t played with the senior team.
  • Pedro RibeiroMade three appearances for the club (one start) before undergoing back surgery.
  • Devron Garcia Has featured in the 18, but has only played for OCB.
  • Richie Laryea Hasn’t played yet, either, but is developing nicely with the reserves.
  • Hadji BarryHas only appeared in four games this season, all off of the bench. Can’t really give him a grade, but I would say he’s shown promise and the coaching staff really likes him.

* * *

That's if for my midseason grades. What do you think? Who would you grade differently? Comment below!

Polling Closed

Joe Bendik115
Kevin Molino53
Tommy Redding17
Cyle Larin10


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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