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View from the End Line: 2019 Mane Land Staff Predictions



It is that time of year again, time to put the reality stone to bed for a few fleeting moments, pull that crystal ball out from the drawer, dust it off, and take a gander inside. This exercise is not just for me, as once again I have reached out to my fellow writers to get their predictions as well. The format is the same as years past, so let’s dive right in and see what everyone thinks for the upcoming 2019 MLS season for Orlando City.

Alek Pierce

Record: 14-11-9 (51 points).

Eastern Conference Result: 5th.

Playoff Result: First-round elimination.

Season MVP: Nani. I foresee far more assists than goals, and I believe his leadership and the intangibles that he brings to the table will spur on the Lions to their first-ever playoff appearance.

Breakout Player: Chris Mueller. With an impressive showing in the preseason and an unmatchable work ethic, I think the club’s new No. 9 will have an impressive year. He appears to be the heir apparent to Dom Dwyer’s role once he hangs up his boots, but I still foresee a great sophomore season for the young attacker.

Bold Prediction: Aside from the Lions finding their way into the playoff race for the first time in the club’s MLS history, I foresee a huge difference in the club’s goal differential as opposed to last season’s -31. Going out on a limb, but I think the goal differential will be in the black this season.

Season Outlook: Massive optimism. There are some questions, namely who will win the starting role between the sticks, but the addition of Nani is going to be massive. I think this is the season that the Lions finally make their presence known, and James O’Connor will remain at the helm at the conclusion of the season.

Andrew Sharp

Record: 9-13-12 (39 points). If this team can improve enough to turn last year’s losses into draws and draws into wins, then Orlando might have a passable record in 2019, but with half of the 22 losses being by multiple goals and uninspiring defensive acquisitions in the off-season, it seems like it will be an uphill struggle.

Eastern Conference Result: 9th. Even with the best starts, Orlando can’t escape the summer slump hoodoo. Admittedly, last year’s slump turned more into a nosedive with the Lions taking nine points out of the last possible 75, with none coming away from home in that time. A complete reset for the second time in as many years breeds some hope that things could be different and with an extra playoff spot up for grabs it may finally be the year the Lions make it to the promised land, but it’s hard to see no less than eight teams comfortably better than Orlando in the East right now.

Season MVP: Don’t overthink it, it’s Nani. The Euro 2016 winner is according to some remarkably not at his peak anymore. You don’t say! That’s irrelevant, even at 32 (two of last season’s five MVP candidates arrived older than that and were equally written off as “past it” before tearing everyone apart) he is undoubtedly the best player in this squad. His technical ability, outlandish creativity and wicked eye for goal should allay any cliché fears about the four-time Premier League champion having “lost a step.” That’s not to say he’s a miracle worker and leaning on him too heavily like many of Kaká’s teammates did won’t help him flourish.

Breakout Player: With no less than 11 senior acquisitions so far made this winter and a large number of them being relatively unknown quantities in an MLS setting it’s hard to tell which ones will hit. One familiar face, however, is Chris Mueller, who had a hot start to his rookie season and was earning early Rookie of the Year plaudits before his production tailed off along with the rest of the team. If you thought year one Cash was good, I’m touting him to have an even better 2019.

Bold Prediction: Only one MLS season has seen two Orlando players hit double figures for goals when Larin and Molino bagged 14 and 11, respectively, in 2016. Last campaign, Dwyer topped the charts with 13 but the next best was Kljestan with a paltry six. So how is this for bold? Orlando will have three players with 10+ goals for the first time, a feat achieved by D.C. United, both LA teams, San Jose, and Sporting Kansas City last year.

Season Outlook: You can’t be disappointed if you had low expectations to start with, right? In all seriousness, Orlando City is a small fish compared to the MLS elite and will be scrapping for the last handful of playoff spots — but they are well within reach. MLS is an unpredictable beast and if O’Connor manages to regain that confidence that made Orlando so difficult to beat at home in the first few seasons then an uptick in home points, along with a simple return to the mean for away form, and the Lions have a shout. However, my biggest hope for 2019 is that it’s simply more watchable. With Nani, Mueller, Dwyer, Tesho Akindele, Benji Michel and Santiago Patino, O’Connor can no longer lament his lack of forward options and City must play on the front foot more if they are to succeed.

Jennifer Warren

Record: Shockingly, I believe that Orlando will end up around — or even slightly over — 50 points. I see the Lions getting 15-ish wins, with a handful of draws, resulting in a fifth-place spot in the East.

Playoffs: Good shot at getting past Round One, but Orlando will be eliminated in the conference semifinals.

Season MVP: Without a doubt, this will be Nani. As much as we all loved Kaká, Nani is still performing at a high level and comes to the club pretty much match fit. With the team consisting of a lot of youth, Nani’s experience and leadership will lift everyone around him on the pitch. Orlando has attacking options for him and a coach that is willing and able to adjust things as the match dictates. He most likely won’t be the team’s top scorer, but his assists and creativity will lead the way.

Breakout Player: Tesho Akindele. He has already begun to demonstrate a connection with last season’s breakout player, Chris Mueller. He’s big and strong, and can arguably provide better hold-up play than Dwyer. He’s got some experience but is still young and will continue to grow as the season progresses, learning under Dwyer and Nani. When teams focus on Dwyer, like they always do, Akindele will be able to come on and surprise defenses.

Bold Prediction: The fact that I not only see City making the playoffs, but that I think it be solidly in 5th place. I fully expect Orlando to be better than seven other clubs in the East.

Season Outlook: It’s fair to say that I’m quite optimistic about this season and, just to add to that, I felt this way before the 6-2 victory on Wednesday evening. I honestly don’t put a lot of faith in that win, since the Lions were playing a team that I’m confident will finish way below them in the standings. O’Connor also fielded a fairly random assortment of players that will most likely not be consistent first-team starters. I do, however, have a lot faith in O’Connor and I’m certain that him having a full, intense preseason will lead to the club’s first playoff run. The younger, less experienced signings will be out to prove something, and having a superstar leader on the pitch in Nani is exactly the right balance needed for the club to have a standout 2019.

Scott Carnevale

Record: 11-16-7 (40 points), 9th in the Eastern Conference.

Playoffs: No playoffs.

Season MVP: Nani is probably the highest profile player signed in MLS this off-season, and he will live up to the expectations. His services into the box, combined with his long-range shots, will be detrimental to oppositions in 2019. Nani will lead the team in assists, and be second in goals, behind Dom Dwyer.

Breakout Player: Alex De John. De John has been promising this preseason. He has played well and looks to have chemistry with the other center backs already. On a team that broke the record for allowing the most goals in MLS history a season ago, the back line should be a focal point. Arguments can be made, and I agree, that many of the goals let in were not the defenders’ fault, but look to De John as a big part of the solution to this problem.

Bold Prediction: Orlando City will improve in every statistical category from last year. Okay, that is not saying too much as last year was a train wreck, but small steps here! This year will be better than in 2018 in every sense of the word.

Season Outlook: James O’Connor’s rebuild will take some time, so don’t expect fireworks this year. But, as long as the front office finds some patience, O’Connor will get the team to where it needs to be. This season will be much more entertaining, with fewer goals allowed and more goals scored, but ultimately the Lions will miss the playoffs.

David Rohe

Record: 14-9-11 (51 points).

Eastern Conference Result: 6th.

Playoff Result: Lose in first round (but hey, they made it).

Season MVP: Dom Dwyer. The new player additions free up Dom to be Dom, and force the opposition to cover other players.

Breakout Player: Tesho Akindele will have a massive impact on the Lions season. He will not only score plenty of goals himself (not to mention assists), but his presence will allow Dwyer to score more as well. We’ve also seen the chemistry that Tesho has with Chris Mueller, and I think that it will transfer to the other players as well.

Bold Prediction: Orlando City doesn’t change coaches mid-season. That shouldn’t be a bold prediction, but the recent past looms large.

Season Outlook: There will be marked improvement from a squad that has a lot of new faces. James O’Connor will actually have everyone pulling the same direction, and the team will score many more goals. This will be the turnaround year the club has needed, but it will also just be the foundation, as the 2020 season will be the year to enjoy.

The Bearded Guy

Record: 17-13-4 (for an insane 55 points).

Eastern Conference Result: 4th.

Playoff Result: The Lions make the playoffs, and that is all that matters. The new playoff structure in MLS means that the Lions will play on the road, which sucks. The good news here is that the Lions will play a playoff match.

Season MVP: I am going to step out on a limb and throw Lamine Sané out as my season MVP. Nani is an easy choice, and he will come in second, but I honestly believe that Sané will be the man we toast to at the season’s end.

Breakout Player: Benji Michel. I fully expect names like Nani, Sebas Mendez, Mueller, Dwyer, Akindele, and others to make an impact. I think that Michel off the bench will be one of those impact players that runs teams stupid. He is going to be that 20-minute sub that is feared in MLS.

Bold Prediction: Orlando City makes a turnaround that even Matt Doyle cannot help but write nice things about. OCSC is going to make heads turn this season, and not because the Lions are breaking the records they unfortunately set last season. This is the season that Orlando City solidifies itself as an Eastern Conference juggernaut.

Season Outlook: It is going to be a roller coaster, but in the end, the club will see the promised land. I fully expect more wins than losses, thanks to defending our home.

Michael Citro

I hate making predictions, and usually abstain from participating in these preseason prediction things, but I’m jumping in this year for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

Record: 12-13-9 (45 points).

Eastern Conference Result: 8th.

Playoff Result: No playoffs, but a step closer toward them in the future.

Season MVP: The man who will put up the statistics will be Dom Dwyer, reaping the rewards from a much-improved surrounding cast and a better overall offensive team philosophy. Dom’s goal total will climb to at least 15 goals and the assists will be split among Nani, Chris Mueller, Sebas Mendez, and others.

Breakout Player: Sebas Mendez, and this is why I’m in this column. Seriously? No one else picked Sebas? In fairness, only a few of us on staff were able to be at both Orlando City Invitational matches, but Mendez was a huge problem for New York City FC on both the defensive end and in the attack. I loved his energy, his tenacity, and his knack for finding the right teammate with his next pass.

Bold Prediction: Sacha Kljestan will return to his Red Bulls-level assist numbers. If the NYCFC match is anything to judge by, Kljestan appears to have regained his mojo. His passes were spot on, his energy level was high, and he had a good understanding of where his teammates would move next.

Season Outlook: This team is made up of a lot of new pieces and the biggest of those — Nani — hasn’t gotten a preseason game in (and won’t). He may not even be available in the opener if his paperwork is slow to arrive. I still think this team is a couple of players away from completing the overhaul it needed, I’m not convinced the young strikers will be sufficient additions, and the attacking part of the midfield is still too thin. Some steps in the right direction will be made, but I don’t know that this team is ready to join the postseason party just quite yet.

There you have it folks. Do you agree or disagree? Please let us know in the comments. You never know, I might sing your praises or make fun of you incessantly at the end of the season.


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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