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Orlando City: Who’s In, Who’s Out?



So the season is over, you’re obviously feeling defeated as a quick start led to a rough finish. But there were fantastic glimpses of what this team could be at some point or another. As pragmatic as I am, I fell prey multiple times to the highs of the season that I desperately clung to as Orlando City searched for its first playoff appearance.

The good news, if you’re an eternal optimist pretending to be a realist, is that I don’t think Orlando City is that far away from a playoff appearance. With some tweaks, I think General Manager Niki Budalic and his crew have this team on the right track. And I also think Head Coach Jason Kreis, given a second off-season window, will find the right players for his system.

This isn’t an article for what I think the club will do, while I’ve taken that into consideration, since MLS contract details are as hard to get into as Fort Knox. Don’t believe me? Google just about every other league in the world and try to find information on contracts. Now try to find out Orlando City’s long-term contracts. Good luck. So with that said, here are the next steps I hope will come for Orlando City.


Dom Dwyer

Is there any way Dom isn’t on the 2018 team? Not to mention all the allocation money the club gave up, but he’s one of the top finishers in the league. The only question at this point is if he’s going to be a Designated Player (DP) or not. He still has one year on his deal and could be given an extension.

However, the front office could use more of that aforementioned allocation money to bring him down below the DP threshold. Personally, I hope this is the case as Dom would be one of the best non-DPs in the league.

Jonathan Spector

I will argue until I’m blue in the face that if Spector was healthy all season Orlando City would’ve made the playoffs. He was largely the reason why the team had a 6-1 start and equally the reason the Lions fell off the table when he went down.

Orlando City’s depth at center back is rough. We saw that as Orlando was constantly thrashed up the middle without Spector and sometimes even with him, depending on his pairing. But Spector’s spot is as safe as anyone’s at this point.

Joe Bendik

Arguably the club’s best player all season, Joe Bendik has zero worries. The man who has broken club records this year is going to be back between the pipes next year.

He’s had his hits and misses but I can’t see a scenario where he’s gone. He’s not good enough to get offers outside of MLS. That lends to him continuing here, but he’s going to need to be on top of his game because his spot as starting keeper isn’t a lock.

Earl Edwards Jr.

Edwards is staying. You might have doubted that if you watched him get shelled for six goals in his first MLS start, but forget it. Josh Saunders isn’t returning since his injury is to the point that you don’t bring him back with someone like Edwards in the wings.

The Landlord is going to be City’s backup goalkeeper and, if Bendik isn’t careful, he’s going to overtake him at some point in 2018.

Yoshimar Yotún

The only guaranteed DP on the roster, Yoshi is staying. What role he will be playing remains to be seen but you can see Kreis clearly wants to run the offense through him.

Yoshi helped Peru claim an unlikely spot in CONMEBOL to advance to the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand, and he is sure to be a very valuable piece to Orlando moving forward.

Cyle Larin

Probably the most controversial name in my “locks” section, but Orlando City needs to keep him. You’re probably like me and upset at Larin this season, but he wasn’t that unproductive. He’s just a kid who made some mistakes that screwed with his head and ended up with a rough season.

Larin is one of the best non-DPs, especially considering he’s only in his third year. If Orlando City is smart, he’ll be there in 2018 paired with Dom to be one of the most formidable front lines in the league. Just try to ignore the transfer rumors.

Tommy Redding

An Adidas Homegrown product and one of Orlando City’s brightest young stars, Redding is going to be here next year. He had some growing pains this season but I’m still confident in him and his development. Pairing him with Spector for another full season will do wonders for the young center back.

Scott Sutter

Possibly the best inclusion to the 2017 Lions, Sutter was as consistent of a performer as you could have asked for. Playing right back for most of the season, and keeping fan favorite Rafael Ramos on the bench, Sutter performed admirably.

Starting a majority of the matches for the Lions, Sutter is a permanent staple in the back line in 2018.

Giles Barnes

Remember, I said this is what I want to happen, not what will happen. But while I think it’s a slim chance, Barnes should be a lock. A former DP level, Barnes still has a style that is unlike any of the other Lions on the roster. His direct style, that needs no one to feed him, is something that fits in well with a pass-happy City.

Should Feel Safe, But No Guarantees

Cristian Higuita

Orlando’s enforcer for many matches this season, his place should be safe on the team. While his spot is the first position I would upgrade, his consistency and work rate should keep him on for 2018. I would love to see him relegated to the bench, but we’ll see.

Dillon Powers

After some injury spells, Orlando City took a risk by trading for the former Rapids center midfielder. Similar to Barnes, I love his style to not be afraid to take players on one-on-one. I think he needs some time to get acclimated to the system, but he has a place here. He can be a solid rotational player and spot starter as the team progresses.

One of Orlando’s biggest issues has been depth as an expansion team and Powers off the bench would be a very serviceable hold for the roster.

Mason Stajduhar

A Homegrown product, Stajduhar hasn’t seen much of the field. But as an 18-year-old goalkeeper behind Edwards and Bendik, that is expected. Despite his lack of playing time, I think he will be back.

While we don’t know what is to come of OCB, I think Stajduhar could still be held on as an emergency third or fourth keeper as that role is mainly slotted for development.

Jose Aja

I’m a fan and you should be too. The point is the team doesn’t have depth at this position and Aja supplies that. A staple in 2016, I think Aja still has the ability to fill gaps for the center back depth moving forward. He won’t be starting 20 games, but Aja can be a solid sub for either Spector or Redding.

Antonio Nocerino

Nocerino is probably the guy I hate writing about the most in this section. Our own Bearded Guy — by the way I have a beard too, despite keeping it tight, and I get no credit — loves this guy and will fight me and all of you who don’t like him. I want Noce gone, especially at his salary level. But, I think the Italian has more in him.

I’m hoping the fact he said he has three or four more years in him means he’s getting a last wind and will be a great leader and spot starter for Orlando. Just like I mentioned with Higuita, I think the defensive midfield role is the top priority to improve. But Noce could play a valuable veteran role, if he’s ready to accept it.

Servando Carrasco

I Want Them To Stay But I’m Not Confident

Seb Hines

I’ve mentioned depth at center back a lot and if the club doesn’t bring people in, Hines has to stay.

Will Johnson

I know the allegations, and I’m a broken record on depth but filling needs is what happens when you’re going into the fourth year. Johnson is a decent backup and spot starter at 30 and, if he still has the locker room, is a valuable veteran. People make mistakes, I’m not going to crucify him without all the facts. In my 2018, he’s there.

Rafael Ramos

I always have been a Ramos fan and always will. At 22, his athleticism and pace up the right wing still makes me see a bright future. I give him one more year to see what he can do.

Donny Toia

This may be a surprise to some of you, but Toia started a majority of Orlando’s matches at left back and I’m still not convinced he’s the long-term answer. At his contract and with the need to upgrade the defensive front, Toia could be the most vulnerable.

Pack Your Bags Because Nothing Is Guaranteed

I’ll never say someone should lose their job (except one guy below) but these players are either definitely on their way out or haven’t played enough to give a real good idea. I have noted who I think could still be loaned.

Kaká (Out)

If you don’t know already, Kaká is gone. It’s a good thing as Orlando City now has millions to spend on a younger DP. I thank him for his service and you might not like it, but it’s the right move by the organization and I’m happy the front office held strong. It shows a competency of an organization that wont be backed into a corner by emotion.

Josh Saunders

I hate writing this. I love Josh. I’ve followed his career for a very long time. But with his neck injury, whether it’s by choice or not, Earl Edwards is most likely taking the second spot and the third spot is not typically used for aging keepers. Best of luck Josh. I’m rooting for you in whatever the next step is.

Hadji Barry

The hardest to put in any category as he may prove me wrong. But Hadji strikes me as a USL/NASL player who can eventually be a bench MLS player. If OCB stays he would be perfect for that team.

Richie Laryea (Loan Out)

He’s been a Lion for two years but he needs so much seasoning that I’m not sure how he fits in 2018. He’s not good enough to impact the game as a starter or sub yet, and the USL is the perfect place for him, I don’t know what’s in store for Richie but I think he is to leave if OCB folds.

Pierre Da Silva

Conor Donovan – Loan Out

Devron Garcia

PC Giro

Léo Pereira

Tony Rocha

Kevin Alston

Leave Now:

This is harsh and there’s only one player in this category for me. I have heard Kreis loves him but he needs to go. Now.

Carlos Rivas

I wrote an article about Orlando’s failed DPs a while ago and Rivas was a very big part of it. I don’t like him, and if you do I’d ask you to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. He’s lazy. Always has been. Maybe not in training but he’s been the laziest player in matches since day one. I’m also sick of him shooting shots into the stratosphere.

He might be the worst waste of money in MLS and I want him gone. This is my one super emotional decision. I want him gone. He’s useless. We need better. Rant over.

So there you have it Mane Landers! Get at me for your thoughts on who you want to see in or out.

Looking forward to the banter!


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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