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What MLS Might Look Like If it Adopted Promotion and Relegation



I don’t mean to beat a dead horse and bring up the same old argument that American soccer fans have been having for years, but someone has to do it, so let’s talk about promotion and relegation.

I’m not going to bring in the pros and cons of pro/rel — that would be a much longer article for you to read through, and it would likely contain regurgitated quotes from industry experts saying the same things we’ve all been hearing for years. Instead, I’m going to talk about what MLS would look like next season if promotion and relegation were to be adopted.

Before I go any further, I will let you know my opinions on the subject of pro/rel, just for transparency’s sake. I am in favor of pro/rel. I think it would breed more competition, better players, and better fan bases. However, fiscally speaking, it is something that would be very difficult to make work in the American sports model. Owners would be uneasy when it comes to making investments, because one poor season could result in the loss of it all. So I understand both sides of the coin, but I am in favor of the betterment of the game, not the wallets of the owners, and that is my stance.

Now that we’ve done that, let’s examine how we would implement promotion and relegation. Now of course, minus the statistics I mention, the methods of implementation are what I believe would be the best way to do it, no concrete evidence to anything here.

I think the way that would be the most widely received, would be the German Bundesliga’s method of pro/rel. It isn’t a strict three-up/three-down system, and adds some action and tension that I think would be well received by the American sports fan. The way the Bundesliga works is that the bottom two teams are automatically sent down to the second division at year’s end, with the top two teams from the second division moving up. Then, when it comes to the third spot for promotion, it all comes down to a playoff. Not like how it is done in England, where teams three through six play a four-team playoff for the final spot. Instead, the third-place team from the second division plays a two-legged playoff series against the team that finished third from the bottom of the first division.

Last season in Germany, this featured VfL Wolfsburg fighting for its life and managing to stay up in the Bundesliga, defeating Eintracht Braunschweig, 2-0 on aggregate. The narrative fits everything that an American sports fan loves: it makes it almost a David-vs.-Goliath story where the little guy has an opportunity for glory while the well-established team has to fight for its livelihood. I do believe that maybe in the future the English method with the four-team playoff could be adopted instead, however since there is some unfamiliarity with teams in the lower leagues among the average MLS fan, I think having an MLS team involved in the playoff would bode better for ratings.

Which Teams are Going Down?

Looking at the Supporters’ Shield standings, Orlando City would definitely have been safe this season, despite finishing 10th in the East with 39 points. The two worst teams in the league both finished with 32 points, and they are the LA Galaxy and D.C. United. Finishing just one point ahead of those teams, with 33, were the Colorado Rapids, who would find themselves in a playoff scenario if this were to occur.

Honestly, this scenario would be particularly devastating for the league. D.C. is set to open a new soccer-specific stadium next year, LA just had its stadium expanded. Not to mention that these two teams have combined for 14 trips to the MLS Cup and nine championships in the league’s history. The Galaxy have five titles, and United has four, while the next-closest in league history have two. The reason that I’m harping on the importance of these two teams in particular is because it would likely result in big problems for MLS, as the league would miss out on these larger market shares.

It would also be a large issue for the rosters themselves. In many leagues around the world, “star” players often request a clause in their contracts that states that they would be released from the team or be transferred to another team if the club were to be relegated. Now we already know that Bill Hamid does not wish to return to D.C., but as for the rest of the teams, we could examine who would likely be shipped out.

For D.C., the diminutive maestro Luciano Acosta would likely be gone, along with recent signing and young American hope Paul Arriola. For LA…the list is much longer. One-time MVP contender Romain Alessandrini, the Dos Santos brothers, along with Americans Jermaine Jones and Gyasi Zardes would likely be looking for new jobs. Hell, If Colorado were to lose the relegation playoff, Tim Howard would even be looking for a job.

Which Teams are Coming Up?

So we have our two teams on the way down, and one heading for a playoff, but who is coming up to the first division? Technically, both the North American Soccer League (NASL) and United Soccer League (USL) were granted Division 2 status from the U.S. Soccer Federation last season, but for the sake of this experiment, I will grant the USL superior status due to the fact that they have more competition, a larger reach, and incredibly devoted fan bases.

Not a knock to the NASL at all, but come on, have you seen Nippert Stadium for an FC Cincinnati game? Plus, the USL has Division 2 status for next season. The only drawback to using the USL is that MLS “B Teams” often play in this league. OCB, Sounders 2, Timbers 2, Real Monarchs SLC, etc., etc. So, since we can’t have two teams from the same organization in MLS, any team that is run by an MLS team is disqualified. Unfortunately, that means Real Monarchs SLC, who were top of the table this past year in USL, will not be moving up. With that being said, first place belongs to Louisville City FC, second to San Antonio FC, and third goes to Reno 1868 FC, who would reach the playoff.

Frankly, I think MLS was always missing a team that had a year in their name, so in this fictitious scenario, I’m pulling for Reno to knock off Colorado. I know I said earlier why the relegated teams could hurt MLS. Just as easily, these promoted teams could aid MLS because they are in markets that have just started to get a whiff of what professional soccer can be, give these fans a taste of MLS, and the possibilities could be endless. Now obviously things would be difficult; Louisville and Reno both play in baseball stadiums that seat on average about 8,000 to 10,000 fans, and San Antonio FC plays in its own soccer-specific stadium, Toyota Field, which seats 8,000. The most glaring issue here is that these stadiums are not up to MLS standards. But they could make for interesting away days if you ask me, especially Toyota Field. I would also love the opportunity to see Reno striker and USL Golden Boot winner Dane Kelly get a chance to strut his stuff in MLS.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, this is a dream scenario for what may never actually happen in North American soccer. But it doesn’t hurt to be hopeful, or to speculate, and imagine how different the landscape of the league would be if these opportunities were offered to clubs in the lower divisions. After getting through all of that, I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little winded, so from here I’d love to hear from you.

Are you for or against pro/rel? If you’re for it, do you like how the Bundesliga does the playoff or would you prefer the English method? Where do you think players who are now void of contract would end up? If this happened, would MLS ever allow for true free agency? There really are just so many questions, and I would love to hear your opinions on all of them, so be sure, to comment on them below and I will try to get back to as many of you as I possibly can.


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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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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