The 2016 MLS regular season has come and gone, and now we turn our attention to the playoffs. In typical MLS-Don Garber fashion, the playoffs are wide open, without a clear-cut favorite. Are there some teams in the playoffs without an actual shot at the title? Sure (Philly comes to mind), but you get the feeling we could see just about any two teams wind up in the MLS Cup Final.
1. New York Red Bulls (Last Week: 2)
The Red Bulls end the year in first place after starting the year on a God awful run. The Bulls went 13-2-2 at home for best home record in the league, and enter the playoffs as the hottest team around. If any team is the favorite for the title, it's the fellows from Harrison, NJ.
2. FC Dallas (Last Week: 1)
Despite winning the Supporters' Shield, Dallas slips to second in these final power rankings on account of the stellar play of the Red Bulls over the last couple of months. Back in June, this team looked on track for MLS Cup glory, but October is painting a very different and Fabian Castillo-less picture. This is what the loss of your best player can do.
3. Colorado Rapids (Last Week: 3)
Are you ready to see Tim Howard in the playoffs? Because I am. If for no other reason, the Rapids are at least interesting for that reason.
4. New York City FC (Last Week: 5)
What a success this season has been for the Bronx Blues. After being on the wrong end of endless jokes from around the league a year ago, Patrick Vieira has steered his aging, but star-studded squad into the postseason with a legitimate chance of earning the trophy.
5. LA Galaxy (Last Week: 5)
This might be the worst Galaxy team of the last few years, but if you count LA out you may find yourself eating crow in a few weeks' time. The Galaxy are in no way the favorites, but they have the championship pedigree to find a way to win.
6. D.C. United (Last Week: 4)
Does D.C. have a real chance at they title? Probably less so than other teams this high in the power rankings, but few have ended the season on the kind of tear Ben Olsen's men have. Despite the season-ending loss to Orlando, D.C. finishes just shy of the top five in these power rankings, a very positive result and a serious argument for Coach of the Year considering the leftovers for players Olsen had to work with all season.
7. Toronto FC (Last Week: 9)
The Reds had the benefit of playing a playoff warm-up game against Chicago to close the season out and took advantage by garnering their first win since Sept. 10. Everyone knows how dangerous this team can be between Giovinco and an on fire Jozy Altidore, and should be able to take care of business against Philly in the first round.
8. Seattle Sounders (Last Week: 10)
What an interesting year it has been for Seattle. Newly inducted Hall of Famer Sigi Schmid is out as coach, Clint Dempsey is out with injury, but somehow the Sounders have made it to the postseason as something of a dark horse for the title. Seattle might not be the most likable team for fans of other MLS squads, but you’ve certainly got to respect them.
9. Montreal Impact (Last Week: 7)
Didier Drogba has been nowhere to be found in the Montreal lineup of late, which is disconcerting for our French-Canadian friends considering Drogba just about dragged the Impact into the postseason a year ago. Still, any time you have Piatti, you have a chance.
10. Sporting Kansas City (Last Week: 12)
At this point, if SKC wins the title it would be something of an upset, but frankly it's never looked more likely to happen at any other point in 2016 than now. Does Kansas City have a little magic left in those powder blue unis?
11. New England Revolution (Last Week: 12)
Unlike Philly, which made the playoffs, New England has actually won a game in the last month and might actually put a little fear into the hearts of some teams in the hunt for the title, but alas Jay Heaps‘ squad will have to pay for the sins of an underwhelming beginning to 2016 by having to stay home. This team looks set up for a decent 2017 though, assuming all of that attacking talent around Kei Kamara doesn’t implode in some Columbus-esque feud.
12. Orlando City (Last Week: 16)
The Lions finished the regular season with two straight wins, which makes you about as hopeful as you could've been going into 2017 following a month of disappointment. The jury is still very out on Jason Kreis' Orlando, but he's done all he could've to show signs of life in the last two weeks of this season.
13. Real Salt Lake (Last Week: 13)
RSL really deserves to be lower on this list, but appears in 13th place to close out the season as the beneficiary of some seriously sorry play by the teams below them on this list. RSL backs into the playoffs despite having not won since August, which really is as good an argument for playoff contraction anyone this side of Philadelphia can make.
14. Portland Timbers (Last Week: 8)
You know, as much as I would have enjoyed watching Portland defend its title on the field in the playoffs, I'm pretty certain the Timbers weren't deserving of a postseason bid. Portland was the only team in 2016 to not win a single game away from home. I know Providence Park is one of the best home-field advantages in the league, but you've got to be able to get the occasional three points outside the friendly confines every once in a while. Consider Caleb Porter's title honeymoon period just about over.
15. Columbus Crew (Last Week: 14)
Some teams' championship windows shut themselves over time while others' may shut as the result of an overzealous move by management, but rarely do championship windows shut so abruptly for a team that had shown so much promise. The 2015 MLS Cup runners-up are now looking squarely at a new identity following the dumpster fire that was 2016.
16. Philadelphia Union (Last Week: 15)
Philly is the lowest team in these rankings still managing to make it to the postseason, barely edging RSL for that dubious honor, and really aren't deserving of the postseason bid. The Union enter the chase for the title having lost five in a seven-game winless streak.
For the love of God, Don Garber, contract the playoffs. Philly and RSL are dragging down the postseason product, which is something that should never be allowed.
17. San Jose Earthquakes (Last Week: 17)
There’s no overhaul of the roster in store out in the Bay Area, but maybe there should be. San Jose’s smallish championship window of a few years back has been slammed shut, and if the Quakes want to become anything more interesting than the team Chris Wondolowski plays for they’ll need to create a brand new identity with a brand new core.
18. Vancouver Whitecaps (Last Week: 20)
Maybe I was wrong about Vancouver being the red-headed stepchild of the Cascadia Cup after all? With a chance to stop Portland from having the chance to defend its title, the Caps ended what has been an otherwise dreadful campaign with a statement win over the champs. Still, that win is only good enough to bring them out of the cellar and into 18th place in our final power rankings of 2016.
19. Houston Dynamo (Last Week: 19)
File Houston next to Columbus as the most disappointing teams in MLS this season. Maybe I was too high on Owen Coyle and Co. heading into the year, but now there's nothing but a long and arduous rebuilding process ahead for the orange part of Texas.
20. Chicago Fire (Last Week: 18)
After flirting with escaping the cellar, it just feels right to put Chicago down here to close out the year, doesn't it?
[Editor's note: It pains me to say that Jeff Milby, who has done a tremendous job with these MLS Power Rankings pieces over the last two seasons, is moving on from The Mane Land and this is his final contribution. I personally want to thank Jeff for two years of tremendous contributions to this site, particularly his work on the USL side of things with Louisville City and then OCB. Jeff has been with us since before our move to SB Nation, when we were just a puny little free WordPress site trying to make 200 page views in a day across the site, and he was one of the smartest hires I have made on this site. We all wish Jeff the best of luck with his future. – Michael Citro, Managing Editor]
Reflecting on Eight Years with The Mane Land
A look back over my time with The Mane Land (so far).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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