Official: Orlando City Signs Forward Benji Michel to Homegrown Player Contract
As first reported Friday by Eli Lesser on Instagram and was later confirmed by ProSoccerUSA.com, Orlando City has officially made its fifth Homegrown Player signing of the club’s MLS era in forward Benji Michel out of the University of Portland. Given Orlando’s need to bolster the attack, this is a strong move from the club, although it may take Michel some time to adjust to the professional game. He’s been a standout at every step of his career so far.
The 21-year-old Orlando native spent 2013 through 2016 playing for Orlando City’s U-17/18 academy team and attended Montverde Academy before heading to the University of Portland to play college soccer. While in Orlando, he scored 25 goals for development academy and also played club locally for Florida Rush and FC America.
Michel was the leading goal scorer at Montverde Academy, where he helped lead SIMA during its 136-game unbeaten streak. Montverde won the 2016 MAST tournament championship, and was the consensus National Champion in 2013, 2014, and 2015. He also scored the game-winner for Montverde in a friendly against he New York Red Bulls in a 1-0 game.
Over the three years with the Portland Pilots, Michel made 53 appearances (51 starts), recording an impressive 31 goals and eight assist. He took a total of 132 shots with 68 on goal for a 51.5 percent shots-on-goal average.
His best year was in 2018, when he scored 11 goals with two assists, which included seven game winners. He was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-American second team for his efforts.
Michel is the club’s fifth all-time Homegrown signing, following defenders Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding, midfielder Harrison Heath, and goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, although other players have held the Homegrown tag for the Lions, such as Cam Lindley, and most recently, Danilo Acosta.
What It Means for Orlando City
The signing of the young striker is welcome news for the Lions. Orlando City finished tied with Columbus Crew SC for last in the Eastern Conference last season in goals scored, with 43. The only MLS team with fewer was the Colorado Rapids, with 36. Of those 43 goals, Dom Dwyer scored 13. The next-highest scorer on the team was Sacha Kljestan, with six.
While Dwyer played most of the season, recording 26 appearances and 2,244 league minutes, his backup was Stéfano Pinho who was signed from Miami United FC following his hat-trick performance against the Lions during the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. However, Pinho was largely a disappointment, only scoring twice in 594 minutes. This left midfielder Josué Colmán playing up top while Dwyer was injured early in the season.
The signing of Michel adds an attacking threat to the Lions roster. Last year, Head Coach James O’Connor lamented the lack of balance on the roster, stating that two strikers on a team of 30 players wasn’t enough. He vowed that it was change and the Homegrown signing of Michel leads the team in that direction.
Here’s a glimpse of what Michel can do:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Philadelphia Union
It’s Matchday Eve once again, and Orlando City is looking to right the ship after a tough 2-1 loss to Charlotte FC last Saturday. This week the Lions will hit the road and take on the Philadelphia Union up in Pennsylvania.
A date with the Union means I caught up with Joe Lister, one of the writers over at Philadelphia Soccer Now, the new home of what was formerly SBNation’s Brotherly Game. As usual, Joe was extremely helpful in getting us up to speed on Philly.
One of the storylines in Orlando City’s off-season was Andres Perea’s departure for the Union. How has he performed so far?
Joe Lister: He’s done really well. Perea has sat behind Ale Bedoya thus far in the season, but as the Union’s captain exits matches a little earlier this year, Perea has stepped in well. He’s also seen significant minutes in Champions League play, and has been great in all competitions. He’s not fighting for a starting spot, but Perea is exactly what Philly needed: a role player.
Paxten Aaronson and Sergio Santos are no longer with Philly. How have they been replaced?
JL: Frankly, Santos and Aaronson have been the Union’s least important transfers of recent memory. The absence of Cory Burke is felt a little more in the first team, but it’s hard to say that Jim Curtin is regretting letting Santos and Aaronson walk.
In the larger picture of transfers, Philly brought in Perea and Joaquin Torres to boost the attack, and they’ve looked solid this far. Torres has demonstrated abilities at the No. 10 and the No. 9, and Perea, as you know, has huge upside at the No. 8.
Obviously, the Union are competing on two fronts to start the season, which can make it a bit tricky to judge performances when rotation is coming into the mix. With that being said, what are your early impressions of the team this year?
JL: The team is a little shaky. For some reason, the same starting XI that reached the MLS Cup final is struggling to gel.
The attack, more specifically, is having a rough go. It took some time to get forward Mikael Uhre going, but as soon as he did, Julian Carranza picked up a red card. It isn’t pretty right now, and the Union truly looks like a mid-table side in MLS action.
Are there any injuries, suspensions or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JL: That Carranza red card will give him a suspension against Orlando, and goalkeeper Andre Blake may be missing the match due to a grade one adductor strain (though he could be cleared to play within the next few days). The Union will also be missing a bunch of players to international duty. Daniel Gazdag, Damion Lowe, Jose Martinez, Richard Odada, Quinn Sullivan, Brandan Craig, and Jack McGlynn will all be out. I’m no math major, but that adds up to nine absences.
Deep breath, here’s my lineup projection.
This isn’t gospel, but Curtin turned to a 4-3-2-1 when faced with injuries in 2021. My gut is that he’ll try something similar here.
Joe Bendik; Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Olivier Mbaizo; Jesus Bueno, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya; Joaquin Torres, Andres Perea; Mikael Uhre.
With all of that said, the Union just can’t pull this off. The team is missing too many players, and they just don’t look comfortable in MLS. This one goes to Orlando, 3-1.
Big thanks to Joe for getting us caught up on the Union. Vamos Orlando!
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