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Five Players Orlando City Should Consider in the Re-Entry Draft



The most active of the annual MLS off-season reclamation drafts is finally here as the Re-Entry Draft starts up today with Stage 1 and ends next Thursday with Stage 2. Orlando City has plenty of holes to fill on its roster and the Re-Entry Draft is a prime opportunity to pick up some experienced pieces from around the league. This year, City has the fifth overall selection in both stages, giving the club a good shot at some of the better players available.

There is always a handful of talent available in the Re-Entry Draft. Taken last year, both Leonardo and Josh Williams were starters for teams that reached conference finals this season with the Houston Dynamo and Columbus Crew, respectively. Maxi Urruti — FC Dallas’ starting striker for the past two seasons — was taken in the 2015 draft. There are also inevitably players taken that don’t pan out, but the draft is a low-risk opportunity to pick up some talented players or depth pieces. The amount of talent varies from year to year; seven players were selected in the 2016 Re-Entry Draft after just four in 2015 and 11 in 2014.

There are some quirks, like most of the plethora of drafts that MLS hosts every off-season. If a player is taken in Stage 1, the club assumes their 2018 contract option. Generally, these players are available because those options are higher than their production, which is why few players, if any, are selected in Stage 1.

Players taken in Stage 2 are free to negotiate new deals with the selecting club, but there’s no guarantee that a player that is still available after Stage 1 will still be around in Stage 2. A handful of players each year either re-sign with their original clubs in the days between the stages while some will opt out or retire altogether. Players have until the beginning of each stage to opt out for any variety of reasons. So teams must weigh the risk of assuming a higher cap hit with missing out on talent, especially because clubs are far more active in Stage 2 and willing to select a player due to the contract freedom.

With Orlando City’s need to fill out almost half of the roster and lack of international spots to go around, the Re-Entry Draft is one of the best mechanisms to find domestic talent with plenty of league experience. The Lions were one of three active clubs in Stage 1 last year, selecting goalkeeper Patrick McLain before eventually shipping him off to Minnesota United with Kevin Molino. Orlando City and the San Jose Earthquakes are the only clubs that have selected players in each of the past three Re-Entry Drafts. Goalkeeper Josh Ford was selected in the second stage of 2014, followed by Kevin Alston in 2015, and McLain last year.

There are several names that should draw interest from around the league. Here are a few that could suit Orlando’s needs in 2018.

Mike Grella

The American attacking midfielder has been a staple for the New York Red Bulls after bouncing around England for most of his career. His 2017 season was cut short due to a left knee injury that required surgery back in June, limiting Grella to just eight league appearances.

The injury should rightly raise a red flag as the midfielder turns 31 next month and it could be an issue that turns teams off even though he’s been steadily productive since 2015. His 2018 option will likely be higher than his 2017 salary of $188,250 but even still, it could be tempting given his 16 goals and 13 assists in the past two seasons. With the severity of the knee issue, it’s likely clubs would rather renegotiate for a lower number, which makes Grella a prime candidate to be taken early in Stage 2. Which may be enough reason for some teams to take the risk and eat his salary in Stage 1.

Even if Grella takes a step back in 2018, Orlando lacked dynamism and creativity off the bench. Mike has succeeded as a winger, attacking midfielder, and even forward during his time in MLS and could be the perfect piece to add quality depth to a few different areas of Jason Kreis’ side. After all, how many Orlando players had this much skill on the ball in 2017?

The Lions must do their homework regarding his knee and then ask themselves just how much he’s worth against the cap. Can they afford to pull the trigger in Stage 1?

Matias Laba

Like Grella, Laba suffered a debilitating injury in 2017. The Argentinian midfielder tore his ACL in August, though he is expected to be available in the spring. Matias has been considered one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS during the past five years and Orlando City is thin at the six spot after letting Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco, and Dillon Powers go. Cristian Higuita is penciled in to start for the time being, but spent most of 2017 in a more advanced role. If Kreis wanted to bring in a new number six, Laba would fit the bill perfectly. But his history within the league and the fact that he just turned 26 this week will make him an enticing candidate for plenty of clubs.

There are a few drawbacks with Laba. Besides the injury, he takes up an international spot and is one of the highest-paid midfielders in the league. Matias has spent all five of his seasons in MLS with Canadian sides, so a green card is probably still a ways away. Then there’s the price tag of $885,500 in 2017 that made him more expensive than Nocerino. It’s almost a given that teams will look to take Laba in Stage 2 to avoid that massive hit on their cap, but his talent makes him a likely early selection next week.

But if the Lions are looking to lock up a proven talent within the league to man the base of Jason Kreis’ diamond, they might be better suited to take Laba instead of an unknown TAM signing from overseas to bolster the midfield.

Jose Villarreal

The 24-year-old Villarreal was once considered a top prospect in MLS but for some reason never got an opportunity with the LA Galaxy. Over the six years since he signed his Homegrown contract in LA, he’s made just 68 appearances with the first team during the regular season. And when he actually got a shot, he produced.

But Jose was a member of the Galaxy’s Homegrown purge this off-season and finds himself at the mercy of the Re-Entry Draft. On just $105,000 in 2017, he could be worth a look in Stage 1 to a team willing to take on a potential project. Orlando could definitely utilize a player off the bench that can produce like Villarreal. With the loss of Giles Barnes and Hadji Barry, Orlando is in the market for forward depth. With Villarreal, the Lions would find a younger upgrade on Barry for just $30,000 more in salary.

Lloyd Sam

Sam has definitely taken a step back in the past two years. The quick Ghanaian winger peaked in 2015 with the New York Red Bulls — when he accounted for 10 goals and eight assists — and has dropped in production every season since. He turns 34 next September, so his time in the league is limited, but he fills a niche that Orlando City has badly needed since the departure of Matias Perez Garcia.

Even as he’s gotten older, Sam has been a spark of creativity and pace down the right flank. He notched 10 assists in 2016 between the Red Bulls and D.C. United and chipped in six more this year for the worst offense in the league. With a finisher like Dom Dwyer lurking in the middle, Sam could be a potent piece off the bench to run at tired defenders in limited minutes. Sam gives potential width late in games and allows for some tactical variability even if Kreis remains married to the diamond. Too many times in 2017 the Lions tried to make tactical adjustments but didn’t have the pieces to really change the game. He can also add some goals from midfield with the ability to strike from deep:

The longtime veteran of the English Championship does not take up an international spot, which is crucial for City as it looks to fill in the missing pieces, but he might need to come down from his salary of $250,000 last year to make sense for the Lions. If he’s available in Stage 2, he could be in play for Orlando.

Cordell Cato

Scott Sutter could do with a few breaks in 2018. With both Rafael Ramos and Kevin Alston dealing with injuries for the majority of the season, Sutter was run into the ground. With Rafa’s consistent hamstring issues, there’s no telling if he’ll be available enough to be a reliable backup next year. Cato is only 25 and can play anywhere up and down the right side of the pitch, providing some versatility and attacking flair that fits what Kreis looks for in a fullback.

Even though Cato is a regular for the Trinidad and Tobago national team, he doesn’t count as an international in MLS. His $138,666 salary might be a bit rich for Orlando as one of several options at right back but perhaps his ability to play in the midfield makes it worth the money for OCSC.

There are some character questions with Cato, who was sent home from the T&T camp back in June for breaking team rules. It might lower his value around the league, but chances are some team might pull the trigger on his talent in Stage 1.

The Lions have a chance to pick up some talent for 2018, it will just take some risk assessment and savvy thinking from the front office.


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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