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18 Soccer Stories for Orlando City Fans to Watch in 2018



2017 is now a wrap. While it brought both good times and bad times, 2018 is a brand new year and Orlando City fans should go into it with high hopes. Below are 18 things that soccer fans in Orlando should be excited for (or at least should keep an eye on) in the new year. The list is in no particular order.

1. Opening Day 

So while this list is in no particular order, MLS and NWSL opening days are first on the list for a reason. There is not much more excitement — except perhaps playoff matches — than watching all the off-season moves finally come together and seeing how it all looks in live action. Last year’s inaugural game in Orlando City Stadium was one that many fans will never forget, and one of my personal favorite sporting events. Opening day for the Pride also had one of the best fan atmospheres of their entire season.

MLS announced in early December the games for opening weekend, and the Lions host D.C. United to begin the 2018 season. NWSL has not released its schedule yet, but the past two years the have Pride opened the season in the third weekend in April in Portland.

2. 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

No, the United States is not participating, but it’s still the World Cup. Any soccer fan should not need much convincing as to why they should watch the biggest sporting event in the world. While I am still unsure as to who I will be cheering on, the World Cup should be on everyone’s summer to-do list.

3. U.S. Soccer Presidential Elections 

While this will not be the most entertaining thing to watch for, its implications are going to be huge. Sunil Gulati has been the president since 2006, but his time is finally over. After failing to qualify for the World Cup, soccer fans all over the country are demanding change. Who becomes the next man — or woman — in charge will determine the future of soccer in this country.

4. Kaká’s Future 

The last Ballon d’Or winner not named Messi or Ronaldo retired from soccer at the end of 2017. The Brazilian helped make Orlando City what it is today, and will be Forever A Lion. The club will certainly not be the same without Kaká.

What will he do next? Only he knows the answer to that but the world, and certainly Orlando, will be watching and waiting.

5. Cyle Larin Moving Abroad 

There have been rumors that Cyle Larin will be going to Europe almost as soon as he came into he league. Those rumors are stronger than ever now, and it seems that the former MLS Rookie of the Year will truly, inevitably be leaving The City Beautiful.

Where will he go? What will the transfer fee be? Who will replace the Canadian? There are more questions than answers at this point, but Larin almost certainly will not be wearing purple by the end of the year.

6. New Signings 

There have already been multiple signings made, but Orlando has yet to make a big splash in the market. There is not going to be another player making “Kaká money,” but who is going to be the play-maker in the Lions’ offense? There should still be more players brought, in and it will be interesting to see who steps up in preseason.

7. OCB’s Future

In October of last year there were reports that OCB will will or will not be back in 2018. Around that same time, the club released almost the entire roster. A month later, Head Coach Anthony Pulis left Orlando to take over Saint Louis FC. Since then, there has been little news about the developmental side. Time is running out on this and there needs to be news one way or another in the near future — either player signings, OCB folding, or a reorganization.

8. Dom Dwyer’s Impact

It is looking like 2018 will be Dom’s year to shine. Larin could be gone, and Carlos Rivas’ future is unknown as well. Dwyer, on the other hand, has the potential to help the Lions finally get over the playoff hump. Of course he needs a supporting cast, but this year might be the best of the USMNT forward’s career.

9. Can Orlando City Finally Make the Playoffs?

Dwyer’s impact leads to two other things to watch for. The first is if the Lions could finally make the postseason (No. 10 is the other impact). It has been a rough couple of years and the team has yet to play up to the level that is expected. Head Coach Jason Kreis should have his team close to where he wants it in terms of personnel, and there could be no excuses this year for not getting in.

10. Orlando City USMNT Call-Ups 

As of right now, Dwyer should definitely be called up onto the national team. Joe Bendik and Jonathan Spector have slim chances. Tommy Redding has an even slimmer chance. But 2018 is the start of a whole new national team setup, and every player has a clean slate right now. If they want to play at the highest level, then they need to produce when it matters. Dwyer needs to get back to a top goal-scoring threat in the league. Spector and Redding need to play more consistently. Bendik needs to continue his acrobatic stops and improve his distribution.

11. USMNT Head Coach 

Whoever is the next U.S. Soccer president will determine who takes charge, but it is just as big of a decision as the elections will be. My personal preference is Peter Vermes, but there are many coaches in the running. This coach will be working largely with younger players and will need to rebuild the identity of U.S. soccer.

12. Pride’s Quest for First Title 

The Pride came so close to winning it all in their second season, before losing to Portland in the NWSL semifinals. This year, the expectation is to go all the way. They were the best team in the league towards the end of 2017 and need to pick up where they left off.

13. Marta and Morgan Connection 

Let’s just be honest here — Orlando City was nowhere near as fun to watch as the Pride were in 2017. After a slow start, the Pride turned it around and finished the regular season as the best team in the league. One of the biggest reasons for this is the connection between Marta and Alex Morgan. Two of the best players in the world, they took the league by storm and played at a level above anybody else in the league. Well, everybody except for league MVP Sam Kerr.

2018 could be even better for the pair, as they will have had a half season and an entire preseason to work with one another.

14. Can Rachel Hill Keep Up Winter Performances?

Rachel Hill had a rookie year to remember. She only scored three goals and had one assist in 14 games, but she changed the game when she was in. At the end of the NWSL season, it was clear that Hill had a bright future ahead of her. It became even more clear of this after the 22-year-old’s performances in the W-League. Hill scored seven goals and had three assists in Australia. If she can continue this in 2018 with the Pride, Orlando’s attack will be even more impressive than last year, when they were the best attacking team in the NWSL.

15. After a Breakout Year, What’s Next for Chi? 

Chioma Ubogagu joined the Pride at the beginning of last year, and it was arguably the second-best signing the Pride, Lions, and OCB had all year — Marta was the best. Chi scored four goals and had three assists in 2017, and played up top, in the midfield, and even made her debut as a defender. She is not close to the level of play of the Pride’s best, but her work ethic and impressive performances were enough to catch the eye of Jill Ellis and earn a USWNT call-up. Hopefully Ubogagu can continue to earn more minutes in 2018 and a first national team cap.

16. Man City Best EPL Team Ever?

Manchester City is currently unbeaten in the Premier League — a run that included a record-smashing 18-game win streak — and has all but won England’s top flight before the turn of the year. Can City continue this dominance and will it go down the best team in EPL history?

17. Can Toronto Repeat? 

After winning the treble in 2017 and being arguably the best MLS side ever, Toronto can only go down from here, right? Seeing how the Canadian side follows up its historic year will be one of the biggest stories in MLS this year.


The women have not lost a home game for over a decade. Then 2017 happened and the Yanks lost three games in the States. It was a year that all of U.S. was poor. Jill Ellis may not be the best coach for the Yanks, but she is not going anywhere anytime soon.

The U.S. was not poor last year, but didn’t live up to the high expectations that Americans have been used to seeing. The U.S. finished the year as the best women’s side in the world and 2018 is looking even brighter. After a January friendly match against Denmark, we will get a good look at the women’s side in March during the SheBelieves Cup — when it stops in Orlando — and the Yanks are expected to finish on top.


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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