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What’s Next for Orlando City?



Going into Orlando City’s game on Sunday night, I became slightly optimistic. The New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact had both lost, which meant the Lions had a clear opportunity to gain serious ground on the teams ahead of us in the east.

Picking up three points on the road this late in the season would be crucial to the fairy tale ending we all were hoping for, especially doing it in the hostile environment that is Providence Park. Pulling off this comeback to the Lions’ season would’ve been something you would see in a movie. Instead, however, what transpired was quite the opposite. Not only did the Portland Timbers hammer City, 3-0, but the team was also completely outclassed by Portland’s pacey attack, and was shown the red card twice as well, ending the game with only nine players on the field.

Far from what I, and really any fan of Orlando City was hoping for. So where does this result leave the club? Well, with four games remaining, Orlando City is seven points below the red line, meaning the probability of making the playoffs at this point is nearly impossible. With that being said, I think it’s safe to say that as of right now, it is officially the right time to begin looking into what the off-season holds — scenarios we would like to see happen, players we’d like to sign, and so on.

Management and Coaching

We should start with Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic. Moves made by Budalic this year include the rebuilding of the back four by bringing in Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, and Donny Toia; trading Kevin Molino to Minnesota; signing free agent Will Johnson; trading Brek Shea for Giles Barnes; signing new Designated Player Yoshimar Yotun; signing Luis Gil and subsequently sending him to Colorado for Dillon Powers; and, of course, the big transfer acquisition of Dom Dwyer.

Overall, I think that Budalic has done a good job and has worked hard for this club, and I do not believe that any issues that the club has been having stem from him. That brings to the next order of business, Head Coach Jason Kreis.

It’s been an interesting season for Kreis, from storming out to one of the fastest starts in the league, to totally collapsing off the top of the table, and to now potentially finishing just outside of last place in the Eastern Conference. This was his first full season at the helm of City, and I am a firm believer that coaches and managers need time with a club to see how well they gel. In my mind, that period of time is between two to three full seasons. Giving coaches two full training camps and preseasons with players gives them a better opportunity to make tweaks to formation and to craft the best possible game plan for the team, and to make sure the game plays towards all of their players’ strengths.

I know my opinion of thinking Kreis still needs and deserves more time may be unpopular with some, but in the modern coaching world, a fair shot is very scarcely given to the manager (prime example: Bob Bradley with Swansea City), and I am pleased that it seems like the intent of Orlando City is to ride into next season with Kreis remaining at the helm for the Lions.

Roster Moves

As we saw this year, Orlando City had some interesting things occur — Cyle Larin suspended for a DUI, Kaká injured within the first 10 minutes of the season, Matias Perez Garcia not offered a new contract, and even ‘vice captain’ Will Johnson arrested for domestic violence.

The first roster move I think we can just assume at this point is that Johnson most likely won’t be back next year, which is upsetting when you consider how much of a leader he was for the team, and how much emotion he brought to the pitch. Budalic has also been quoted as saying that contract negotiations with players will begin at the end of 2017 campaign, which is referring to players like Kaká and Larin.

Massive transfer speculation has circulated around Larin for the last two seasons. Orlando City was holding out to sell him until this off-season, as the club could potentially make more profit off a transfer due to league regulations. However, my own personal speculation is that the young striker may have potentially hurt his move abroad due to his arrest, as it shows signs of weakness and immaturity that would not bode well for the European game.

As for Kaká, that is a slightly different story. We reported last week that there are rumors potentially linking him with a move back to Sao Paulo in Brazil, which I think we would all accept with open arms at this point as the aging Brazilian international has basically been reduced to $7.2 million bench warmer. For me, in a perfect world, the club does not bring back Kaká next season, which opens up a Designated Player slot and an international slot, which could give City a good amount to work with on bringing in some new talent.

Another move that I also think fondly of is buying down the contract of Carlos Rivas so that he is no longer a Designated Player. Rivas is an extremely gifted player, and one of the fastest in all of MLS, but his production through three seasons has not been something that screams DP money to me. Frankly, every time he waves off another player from a free kick and then skies it over the cross bar, I just see the likelihood of his contract being reduced become more and more of a reality. To put it bluntly, his statistics for a forward are depressingly weak. He has 171 shots in the past three seasons and only 42 of those shots have been on goal, which is around 25% accuracy. What makes it worse is that he only has eight goals in those three years as well, meaning of his shots on goal, 5.25% of them found the back of the net. In three years with the Lions, no other City player has attempted as many shots as Rivas.

I do like the athleticism the kid brings, and over the last half of last season and into this season he has shown that he has stellar crossing ability. I just think his decision making has not made nearly enough improvements as it should have in the past three seasons. I would love for the Lions to retain him, I just think that they should do so under a standard contract and free up another DP slot.

So Who Does Orlando Sign?

That is a great question that I wish I had the answer to. Antonio Nocerino has done a great job emerging as a new captain of the club, and can most likely assume the role of central defensive midfielder, taking over for Will Johnson. I do think the most vital signing the club must search for this season, though, is another center back to pair with Spector.

Spector has been a revelation this year, but unfortunately, any time that he has gone down, the team has struggled mightily. Inconsistency from the youngster Tommy Redding (who I believe still has a very bright future with City, he just still needs more time to learn and develop), and Jose Aja, who has definitely made his fair share of mistakes this season. I think one of the Designated Player slots should be used at the center back position.

In a dream world, I would look at two American internationals playing in England. Tim Ream has been incredibly solid with Fulham in the English Championship, and though it may be hard to pry him away from Craven Cottage, perhaps a return to America — and DP money — may be able to make that happen. The other English option could be Geoff Cameron. The Stoke City and USMNT defender is starting to get up there in age, and may be interested in a change of scenery. He played for the Houston Dynamo from 2008-2012 before making the move abroad to Stoke City where he has had a fantastic career, but perhaps there is a chance he will want to go the route of Tim Howard and come back to MLS to finish up his career.

The other place I think deserves focus is attacking midfielder. Orlando has had players like Barnes and Yotun fill that void when Kaká has been out, though neither of them have played the position of attacking midfielder for any extended period of time in their careers. Barnes is more of a striker, and Yoshi has been a left back and winger/left midfielder the majority of his career. This position, though, is one that I don’t think Budalic and Kreis need to look very far to fill. One of OCB’s starlets, Pierre Da Silva, is already under contract with the club, and at 19 years old, he is fifth in the USL with seven assists this year and ranked No. 1 this year in the USL’s “Twenty Under Twenty” list. It may be time to let the youngsters run wild and see what they can do.

So basically, to summarize this long-winded article, I think Budalic has done well, I think Kreis should have one more season in charge to perfect his system. I expect Larin to be with Orlando through at least the first half of next season, and I hope that the club moves on from Kaká, looks to youth in the attack, and brings in a new center back as a Designated Player.

As I always say, I don’t think the scenarios that I have laid out are perfect, and for that reason, I would love to hear what you have to say. What changes would you make? Who would you re-sign? Would you make any front office changes? I’m open to hearing any and all criticisms, however, it is my birthday today, so I just ask that you please be gentle. But if you would like to keep the conversations going with me directly you can yell at me in the comments below or on Twitter here.


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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