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The Mane Land Roundtable: A 2018 Orlando City Season Postmortem



The 2018 Orlando City SC season has come and gone and again the club has reached depths we didn’t think possible. A seemingly aggressive off-season held the promise of the Lions’ first-ever postseason and things got off to a rocky start due to late international arrivals, injuries, and suspensions, but the club started to settle in, winning a club-record six straight games.

Then the wheels fell off. Again fueled by a rash of injuries and international call-ups — the nadir of which saw the team using midfielders and fullbacks at center back for multiple games — the Lions then lost nine consecutive matches (another club record) en route to winning only two games after a May 6 home win against Real Salt Lake. Orlando City finished on a 2-20-3 slide under multiple head coaches.

I convened a meeting of The Mane Land roundtable to try to make some sense of the 2018 Orlando City campaign. Typically I’d select just a few of our staff writers but for this season-ending roundtable I called pretty much the entire group together and rather than cherry pick the “best” responses, I wanted to give you our full rainbow of opinions to illustrate how differently we all think about the club and the game we love. I even threw in my own responses, which I don’t always do for these things. It’s long, but each chunk is bite-sized. It consists of only five questions, but there are 10 responses to each one.

In your view, what was Orlando City’s biggest problem in 2018 that led to such a poor record?

Logan Oliver: Continuity and stability. With half of the roster being new to the club and most of the rest having only been here for one year at most, it was always going to take time to jell. But too many injuries and suspensions to key personnel — plus losing Yoshi to the World Cup — threw off any hope of jelling quickly. Then when Jason Kreis was fired, everything went back to square one.

Guilherme Torres: Lack of individual production was the biggest problem of Orlando City in 2018. The team seemed to have a good roster in place when the season kicked off, but other than Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotún and Chris Mueller, no other player performed near the expected. Justin Meram was obviously the most evident case, but it’s fair to say that the Lions expected more from the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Uri Rosell, Josué Colmán and Lamine Sané. That was caused by a bunch of different factors and it wasn’t somewhat unexpected considering the huge turmoil the team faced in the off-season.

Sean Rollins: The biggest problem this season was a failure to adapt to adversity. On multiple occasions this year, something negative would happen and the team would fall apart. This most notably happened in Vancouver, LA, and Atlanta. It cost them several points this season.

The Bearded Guy: The easiest answers are injuries, national team call-ups, and constant squad rotation, but I honestly believe it was just a lack of having a true team dynamic. It is the additions of all of the above that led to a team with no real identity, no real leadership, and a never-ending search for stability — 26 back line combinations, three coaches, a new player brought in who then asks to leave. I don’t think there was any stability for this club at all this season.

Alek Pierce: The front office’s impatience in allowing Jason Kreis the opportunity to install a new system with an entirely revamped roster.

Marcus Mitchell: There was plenty wrong with the Lions this season but the back line was just abysmal thanks to injuries and a rotating door for a back line. Orlando City was the only team in MLS to not have at least two defenders start in 20 or more games (Mohamed El-Munir led defenders with 23 starts and some of those were in the midfield). The defense desperately needed a leader or anchor and with Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter another year older it will be interesting to see how this problem is solved in the off-season.

Scott Carnevale: Players were simply not good enough and there was not enough depth on the team. Just take a look at the Meram situation. He left the team and there was no other left winger. There were only two strikers — and just one of which was MLS caliber — so when Dwyer couldn’t play, guys had to play out of position up top. The overall talent level is miles behind teams like Atlanta and New York Red Bulls, and seemingly half the team is defensive midfielders. Sacha Kljestan was the MLS assist king with New York, but he was forced into a different role with Orlando and was the guy finding the back of the net. Had the team had players around him that were capable of scoring — other than Dwyer, of course — Kljestan would have been more effective.

This seems like a front office issue, with poor scouting leading to poor players brought in. If three different coaches struggle to even get a draw then it seems obvious that it is an issue with the players themselves. It will be interesting to see who the club brings in this off-season but if the quality on the field does not improve then 2019 will not be much better than 2018.

David Rohe: While there were a multitude of issues, I feel the lack of a consistent back line (and in particular center backs), led to Orlando City giving up a record amount of goals. That makes it really difficult to win, because so often the team ended up having to play from behind. I think the pieces are there if JOC does indeed move to a three-man back line, but we’ll have to see.

Ben Miller: I think the biggest problem for Orlando City was personnel issues. For much of the season the team was unable to play a first choice XI, and when most players were finally healthy it became evident that the team was overstocked on defensive midfielders and short on attacking talent. 

Michael Citro: Like many of my colleagues, I don’t think you need to look much further than the 26 different starting back line configurations to see the club’s biggest glaring issue. The rash of injuries at center back and fullback was ludicrous and was exacerbated by injuries to the team’s top projected defensive midfielders at the start of the season — Uri Rosell and Cristian Higuita. Combined, it led to the leakiest defense in MLS history, despite having good individual players on the roster. The club overhaul brought in a ton of new pieces but they never had the opportunity to play together long enough to gain any kind of chemistry.

In hindsight, was firing Jason Kreis the right move for OCSC? If so, was it the best timing for the move?

Logan: It may have been the right move when all is said and done but the timing was terrible. The on-field performances at the time were poor but the team was still above the red line when Kreis was given his walking papers and the club was still dealing with a handful of major injuries and its best player was still in Russia. Kreis deserved a bit more time at the helm to try and right the ship. James O’Connor was in no immediate danger of being hired elsewhere and the front office’s overtures about the roster meant no new coach really had a summer transfer window to make adjustments anyway. The personnel tweaks that the club made this year — mainly replacing [Director of Fitness] Dave McKay with Isaac Ramos — probably should have happened before Kreis was let go to see if it had any effect.

Guilherme: I think it was the right move. The team wasn’t performing under him and I have to admit that his insistence on blaming others, especially referees, for the team’s setbacks really annoyed me. Timing might not have been ideal, but I believe a change would happen sooner or later and, if that was really the case, I think you want to make it as soon as you decide it. The change didn’t necessarily generate the results the club expected (and James O’Connor is not to be blamed for it in my opinion), but I don’t disagree with it.

Sean: In hindsight, removing Kreis was the right decision as it was a team he put together that clearly was not performing. However, waiting until the end of the season and not requiring the new coach to inherit Kreis’ roster would’ve given the club more options for his replacement. It’s a similar problem to when they fired Adrian Heath.

Beard: I think that ending the relationship between the club and Kreis was an eventuality, but I am never a fan of doing this at the point that Orlando City did, in the midst of the transfer window. Why would any player want to consider a move, unless it is just a paycheck move, to a club that has no coach? The timing of this move, just like the timing of firing Heath, was poor, even though the separation was inevitable.

Alek: No. But if that’s the route that they wanted to take, I’d have preferred they waited until the end of the season to make the move.

Marcus: I understand the front office wanting to move to another direction after six straight losses, but the firing of Kreis was a terrible decision at that point of the season. The only way it would have paid off was if O’Connor came in and took the team to the playoffs. He didn’t and now there is a lingering “what if” regarding what would have happened if the front office didn’t blow things up and practically end the season in June.

Scott: This is a tough question. On one hand, I was completely against the firing at the time and this seems like a repeat scenario of Heath. There was a long term plan in place and the front office gave up on it. This is a continual trend that is putting the club in the place that it is in today. Kreis should have been given more time, especially with him never having his ideal starting XI at his disposal.

With all that being said, I fully believe that the team is heading in the right direction with O’Connor at the helm. He has a history of success with Louisville and his attacking style of soccer is what this club has been famous for in its USL days. The club will need to be patient as it most likely will take more than just one season to have all the pieces in place, but the team is better with O’Connor than it was with Kreis.

David: It almost doesn’t matter since he never really got to field his complete team thanks to injuries, but the point is moot. What I’ll say instead is that Kreis may not have been the right coach going forward in MLS on the whole. As such, bringing in O’Connor has great potential if he is given the time to get his system and players in place. As for the timing of the Kreis firing? It stunk. It was a horrible time to do so. Yes he’d just gone on a losing streak, but that streak was preceded by a long winning streak. Some players were just returning from injury when the decision was made. We’ll never know if that could have made the difference. The middle of the season is never a good time to fire a coach, but Orlando City seems to have a bad habit of doing so. Let’s hope O’Connor gets at least a full season, though it will probably take longer.

Ben: I think the Kreis firing was not the correct move at the time. The team was still in a playoff spot, and while mired in a poor run of form, I think the timing was very questionable. Had the Lions continued to lose during the summer and fallen out of the playoffs then sure, make the decision, but I don’t think it was the correct choice at the time.

Michael: You’ll never convince me that firing a coach when the team holds a playoff spot is a good idea. You’ll further never convince me that Kreis couldn’t have won more than two of the final 25 games. That doesn’t mean he was the best man for the job, but with all he had to deal with, a losing streak was understandable. The timing was awful, as he was just starting to get his first team back from the injured list and international duty. The key part of the question to me is “in hindsight.” Obviously that’s always 20/20, but Alex Leitao’s insistence that the club believed in the players Niki Budalic brought in, and distancing Kreis’ role in assembling the team, sheds a much less favorable light on the front office than it does on Kreis. Again, Kreis may not have been the best man for MLS 3.0, but that in and of itself doesn’t warrant the firing or the timing for it. As I said all season (check the PawedCast!), I’d have given him until the All-Star break.

How much did Justin Meram not working out affect Orlando’s season?

Logan: There were other, bigger issues than Meram. Not every signing is going to work out in the long run, let alone immediately, and there was no contingency plan should he not pan out. Justin can’t be blamed for the club surrendering 72 goals this year or the team’s striker woes. He didn’t help matters but the offense was obviously better with him in the side.

Guilherme: Hugely. Meram was a difference-maker for the Crew in 2018 and that was the player Orlando expected when he was signed. Also, he was supposed to be by far the team’s most productive winger and with him and Josué Colmán both underperforming, the team lacked offensive options out wide. Despite Chris Mueller’s somewhat surprising rookie season, the Lions were shorthanded at the wing position and they never figured it out. 

Sean: I think Meram’s issues had an effect in that he was brought in to be a big part of the offense, but he wasn’t one of the biggest problems. I also think the way he was treated by fans may have had a negative impact because other players probably knew about it and that may have had an impact on the lack of effort late in the season. After all, who would want to work hard for fans if they’ll threaten you?

Beard: Greatly. The relationship certainly seemed to get very toxic, and having toxicity in the locker room and on the pitch is going to greatly affect others. I have no idea why Meram didn’t work out, and I am not sure that we will ever get to the bottom of the entire situation, but having that whole strange situation looming over the club for as long as it did certainly affected the product put forth.

Alek: Tremendously. He cost the club a lot, and he never quite settled in. He wasn’t a good fit alongside Sacha Kljestan, and that was a huge problem early on in the season.

Marcus: In the grand scheme of things, Meram had little impact on the season in my opinion. Meram was just one of many offensive weapons the Lions had and one of many that didn’t pan out, although he was the biggest disappointment. I can’t speak on behalf of the locker room impact he made, but he wanted out of Orlando and the team cut its losses and moved on. Sure, Orlando could have done better with over a million in allocation money, but there was plenty of blame to go around after this season.

Scott: Extremely little. Had Meram worked out and been a vital part of the team, Orlando City would still not have been good. One player does not make or break a soccer team and the issues with the Lions spread much farther than just the Meram fiasco. This also goes back to the front office and Kreis and the fact that they had just one left winger on the team — Meram. The fact is, Orlando is just not a good team. When you win just eight games under three coaches all year and break the record for most goals allowed in a season, it is not because one player did not fit with the club. 

David: I’m not sure it would have worked out regardless. The pairing of Meram with Kljestan might have seemed like a good idea, but in reality, their style of play didn’t complement each other. I think Meram’s lack of production, coupled with at the time unknown off-the-field stuff contributed to a team that was at best disjointed in the attack. At the very least it was money and time that could have been spent on a different player.

Ben: As I alluded to above, for me a big problem on the season was personnel issues. Had Meram settled in Orlando, he would have provided a good deal of the attacking creativity that OCSC desperately needed. By no means was his time in Orlando the only reason that the Lions didn’t do well this year, but I certainly think that it played a part in how the season shook out. On a percentage scale, maybe 15%.

Michael: I’m enjoying the split opinion on this issue from the staff. For me, it was a huge issue because the team obviously was counting on Meram working out to provide a player who could attack in 1-v-1 situations and score goals from outside the box, but he provided none of that in his short stay in Orlando for various reasons that have been rehashed ad nauseam. Ironically, he was the exact kind of player the team needed under O’Connor down the stretch when JOC had to play a multitude of defensive midfielders due to the dearth of attacking options because Colmán clearly isn’t ready to start and Mueller was faltering. One of my biggest regrets of this season is that we never truly got to see what Meram could bring to O’Connor’s system. We caught only a glimpse with that huge assist at LAFC on a Dwyer goal that was erroneously overturned (in my opinion — you’ll never convince me that video showed a “clear and obvious” offside on that play).

What issues must the team address (on or off the field) this off-season to become a playoff contender in 2019?

Logan: I agree with Sacha Kljestan in that both on and off the field, the club needs an identity. Committing to O’Connor and allowing him to build his vision for his style of play will go a long way toward creating identity on the field, though that isn’t a quick fix by any means. Off the field, the culture of the club is something that needs to be built up over time. Bringing in players and staff personnel with the right attitude will go a long way toward developing something Orlando City.

Guilherme: I think the team needs more organization and direction off the field. The front office tried to put together a strong roster in 2018 but it clearly didn’t work and there was no plan B. I think the hiring of Ricardo Moreira, who helped the Crew to build some competitive yet inexpensive rosters in the past few seasons, could help with that, especially with finding young and talented South American players. I expect to see a handful of changes heading into 2019 and I’m curious to see which direction the team will go.

Sean: On the field, Orlando City is not bad in the midfield but the back four have struggled and Dom Dwyer is the only attacking threat up front. The two biggest needs are up front and in the back. Off the field, there seems to be no vision of where the club should head in the future. Until there is a collective vision for the club, I’m afraid it will be much of the same.

Beard: How many items can I list here? The biggest thing will be looking at the clubs who are making the playoffs and those teams’ DPs. City has not had much luck with the productivity of its players with the DP tag, and this needs to be fixed quickly. City also need to address fitness/health regimen and see if something can be done to limit the injuries that seem to plague the team. Also, the Lions need to be better on defense, offense, possession, and all things in between.

Alek: The front office needs to show patience with O’Connor. Success in major sports leagues doesn’t come overnight, nor does it come in just a few weeks. Patience will be key for O’Connor and the success of the Lions in 2019.

Marcus: Most attention will be on O’Connor’s search for a striker or two to better fill out the position, and deservedly so. The defense is ailing but an off-season to heal and a few changes should shore things up on that end of the field. But Orlando needs a bona fide scorer to help take the load off of Dwyer and make better use of the many play-makers on the team. It will be a fresh start of sorts and the chips will hopefully fall into place for O’Connor and the Lions.

Scott: Orlando City will not be a playoff team in 2019. But, to get closer to the goal, another roster overhaul is needed. The team finally signed a director of scouting so that is a good first step and should help in identifying better quality players. The core of the team is solid — Dwyer, Kljestan, Yoshi, Ascues, Sané, Sutter, and Spector. There are another couple of guys that are good options off the bench — Rocha, O’Neill, Mueller, El-Munir. But other than that, the team needs all new players. At the very least a new starting left back and left winger, more depth at about every position, and another starting MLS caliber striker. I think the best aim for the team is to try to make the postseason in 2020 and use 2019 to bolster up the roster and create a new team culture. There were locker room issues this season and O’Connor needs to build a new culture for this club. 

David: The front office needs to get their ducks in a row. If they’re really behind JOC, then they need to give him the time and resources to get it done. Additionally, there is going to be a house cleaning of the players. Next year’s team is going to look plenty different than the 2018 squad. Finally, whether Kljestan is there or not, he is correct that a winning culture needs to be instilled with the organization. From Flavio to the people at the concession stands, the organization all needs to be pulling in the same direction.

Ben: The club has to do a better job of identifying players. Every year it seems like people are brought in who either barely see the field or seem to have attitude or motivational problems. In the latter half of the season the character problems were said to be a huge issue, so I think a big focus has to be on getting the right people through the door and getting the wrong ones out of it. 

Michael: The first issue the club must address is continuity/stability. Build something with O’Connor and give it time to develop (i.e. more than a season and a half, if necessary). The club has already addressed one of the other main issues and that is talent evaluation. It boggles my mind that Orlando City has skimped on spending money on scouting because the supposed benefits of partnering with top flight clubs in England, Portugal, and Brazil have not been seen at all in the last four years. The team continually misses on international players, although in 2018 the players were higher quality, they were just injured all the time.

Looking back, it’s glaring: Bryan Rochez, Carlos Rivas, Devron Garcia, David Mateos, Sean St. Ledger, and Martin Paterson were busts. PC and Stefano Pinho haven’t worked out and neither did some who were already based in MLS — Matias Perez Garcia and Giles Barnes, for example. Better talent evaluation is needed and the Lions must add speed and quickness to both adequately press high and to recover after turnovers because you’re not keeping up with the Atlantas and NYCs with 30-somethings in the midfield. This is MLS 3.0 and a 2.0 roster just won’t do. Orlando doesn’t have the ability (or willingness, perhaps) to spend like Atlanta or City Football Group and it doesn’t have RBNY’s academy, so I’m not sure how it will keep up unless it either finds more financial backing or builds a more productive academy.

Who are three players the team must not let go and who are three players that should absolutely not be Lions in 2019?

Logan: Must not let go: Yotún, Dwyer, and Colmán. Should absolutely go: Bendik, Pinho, and Donny Toia.

Guilherme: The Lions should definitely keep Dwyer and Yotún for their current production and Mueller based on his potential. I think Sacha should go as he had a huge decline, isn’t getting any younger, and his style sort of limits the team’s alternatives. I think PC has also been a disappointing signing so far. I don’t necessarily dislike Bendik, but I think Orlando can secure a significant upgrade at goalkeeping without investing much on it.

Sean: Dwyer is the team’s only attacking threat, Yotún is the team’s best player, and, despite his struggles this year, Kljestan is the only player on the roster that has experience on a winning MLS team. Those are the three most important players to return. Bendik had his worst season with the club, El-Munir is a liability at left back, and Jonathan Spector was brought in to lead the defense but there’s no reason to believe he can remain healthy. These are the three players that must go.

Beard: El-Munir, Yotún, and Carlos Ascues should stay. I am sure this will come across as strange, but these guys are key in my book. I will cheat a little and give an honorable mention to Amro Tarek. PC, Dillon Powers, and Pinho should go. Sorry guys, but I just do not see the any reason, regardless of salary, to maintain City contracts.

Alek: In my opinion, I’d like to see Dwyer, El-Munir (moved further up the pitch), Mueller, and (obviously) Yotún stay put. Pinho never settled in as expected, so I could see him departing. I don’t think I have two others that I think absolutely need to go, but if the club could get good value for Kljestan, I think that they should consider taking it. I’d still like to see him in purple come 2019 though.

Marcus: Yotún and Dwyer are locks to be with Orlando next year barring a big trade. That third spot is probably held by Kljestan but I think a case can be made for Will Johnson. Given his versatility and work rate, I’ll be surprised if O’Connor parts ways with him. As for who needs to go I believe a goalkeeper and two midfielders are for sure walking out the door. I don’t think the Lions will be heading into next season with its trio of goalkeepers. Earl Edwards Jr. may be the most likely to go, but Bendik could be an interesting trading piece. The midfield needs to be trimmed and both Jose Villarreal and Powers are on the chopping block with only three appearances each in a season all about proving your worth. 

Scott: Dwyer, Yotún, and Ascues are the three best players on the team and are the future. Any hope for being a competitive team lies in the success of these three players and Orlando City should look to build around them this off-season.

There are honestly more players that should not be back next year than should stay, but the first player that needs to go is PC. The Brazilian did not have a good game this season and was responsible for more opposition goals than Orlando City goals. Pinho should also not be back next year. It was worth bringing him in and giving him a shot at MLS after his success in the lower league but he does not have the ability to play in the top level. The third player that should not return in 2019 is Bendik. It was an off year for the 29-year-old and he will surely have a better 2019. But there is plenty of talent in the other three keepers on the roster and there is not a big drop-off talent-wise from Bendik to the rest of the pack. The Lions should look to trade Bendik and get something for him and look to one of the younger keepers on the roster. In a perfect world, Mason Stajduhar will be the starting keeper come opening day, even with Bendik still on the roster.

David: Three to keep: Yotún, Dwyer, and Lamine Sané. The easiest and most obvious player is Yotún. The Lions are a different team with him on the pitch, and he could end up being one of the greatest players in Orlando City history if the front office is smart. Dom is Dom, and Sané seems to be the new anchor of the back line. Three to let go: Villarreal, Powers, and Pinho. The fact that we haven’t really seen these guys much lately tells me they’re most likely out of here.

Ben: I think PC, Powers, and Bendik have to go. PC may not be possible to move due to his contract status, but I think he’s shown Orlando everything he can and his time is up. Powers is being paid $180,000 a year but only played in three games for a total of 69 minutes; the math simply does not work there. I love Joe and he’s been a great servant to the club but I think it’s time to take the goalkeeper spot in another direction. The Lions absolutely have to keep Yotún, Dwyer, and Ascues. All three are fantastic players and there isn’t much more to it than that.

Michael: I’ll make it unanimous that Yotún must stay. That said, the club has to realize he’s not a goal producer, but more of a facilitator of the offense. He’ll get some assists, but he won’t score many goals in the run of play. My other two who must stay are Dwyer (unless you can find a definitive upgrade a la a Zlatan or a Rooney) and Ascues. The club should exercise its 2019 option on Ascues because he’s a great MLS defensive midfielder and a very good three-man back line defender. My three who must go are Bendik (for an upgrade at starter, because Adam Grinwis has been better than Joe in 2018), Powers due to his salary, and one of the defensive midfielders in the $400,000 range. The club has a glut of holding midfielders and Rosell, Johnson, and Cristian Higuita all make a lot of money. Orlando should be able to get some kind of return asset(s) for Higuita, who is still young and added some offense to his game in 2018. Ideally you’d also buy down Dwyer or Kljestan and add a stellar DP in the off-season but I’m not sure the financial flexibility exists for that.

There you have it. I think there were some good and varied responses from the group. Obviously there were things we all agreed on and some split issues as well. Give us your thoughts on the questions above in the comments section below.


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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