Intelligence Report: Scouting New York City FC with Hudson River Blue
It’s the final home game of the regular season and we welcome back the first opponent in MLS Orlando City faced: New York City FC. Our fellow 2015 expansion club has gotten the better of our Lions thus far, to the tune of a win and a draw in the first two meetings, so it’s Orlando’s last chance to grab a win over the other new kids on the block in Major League Soccer.
Here to help us catch up with the visitors is Sam Dunn from our sister SB Nation blog, Hudson River Blue. Sam was gracious enough to answer our questions three (like the bridge keeper!) about our kind-of-rivals from the Bronx in our usual Q&A style. You can look for my answers to Sam's questions over at HRB.
1) How has Jason Kreis learned to best utilize the talents of Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo within the existing framework of the team and how much has that had to do with the team’s recent improvement in form?
Devotees will remember the elegant destruction that Pirlo perpetrated upon OCSC in just 30 minutes off the bench during the 5-3 artillery shelling at Yankee Stadium on July 26. Lampard's introduction to the side, exacerbated by a nagging leg injury sustained in training, was much tougher to finagle.
Fast forward to September, in which “Danq Franq” was named NYCFC’s player of the month. How did Jason Kreis make it happen? By getting the other cooks out of the kitchen. Case in point: Kwadwo Poku hasn’t started a single game since all three designated players were healthy at the same time. Is Poku a destructive force on the ball? Yes. Did he score the first-ever brace in NYCFC history? Sure shot. Does he take up similar spaces on the field as Lampard? Unfortunately, yep.
You can’t sign Frank Lampard and not play the guy, so Poku went to the bench. It’s important to note, however, that once Lamps was installed as the first-choice Number Ten — with Ned Grabavoy to his left and Mix Diskerud to his right in a 4-2-3-1 — the team embarked on a three-match win streak. Form is a strange thing, of course, and the squad dropped an embarrassing home result to D.C. United not long after. But, for three games running against Toronto, San Jose, and Vancouver, Frank made it abundantly clear why he was the guy with the Times Square billboard even before he was actually signed by New York City.
Something to note about Pirlo: he hasn’t been a prominent force in every match, but he’s led NYCFC in touches in every single game he’s started. He bosses the middle of the field harder than the Warden from Shawshank. With Andrew Jacobson at his side playing the role of box-to-box attack dog, the Maestro has made no small amount of hay playing keep-away while the rest of his battery mates run into space. He flicks tricky balls into the box with the easy grace of a saint. Forget the fact that he can’t run or tackle. It’s mesmerizing to watch in the context of Major League Soccer.
2) The reviews of Mix Diskerud's performances this season have been, well…mixed. What has the U.S. international done well and where have his weak spots been in 2015?
Nice pun! You're good people. Really good people, lemme tell ya.
To say nothing of his dual citizenship, the Mix Master is a man without a country. Ask yourself this question: what position does he play? No, don't say "central midfield" to me right now. Which specific space on the field is Mix most productive?
The answer is that there is no answer.
This isn't to say that Mix and his immaculate hairdo have zero strengths. Far from it. He's an above-average midfield tackler, and his stamina is absolutely outlandish. Jason Kreis has often remarked that Mix will look as if he's about to die, only to get a second and a third wind. Free of context, you can't put a price on that. It means that, in the final half hour, he can make a discernible contribution in a lot of places: this year, that's been as a number eight, a number ten, or a right winger. Unfortunately, he rarely distinguishes himself at any of these positions over a full 90-minute span. He's not a natural attacking man, lacks the vision to be a deeper playmaker, and can't cross effectively enough to boss the wing on a weekly basis. In the attacking half, one occasionally forgets he's even out there at all.
Diskerud is a drifter. He drifts! Suffice to say he’s good at a handful of things, but great at almost nothing. We’ve seen a similar story play out with the national team: for every kung-fu kick goal from a gorgeous Michael Bradley ball, there are a half dozen disappearing acts. It isn’t because he doesn’t understand the game plan; the guy just doesn’t have the field vision.
We've been pretty merciless in our evaluations of Diskerud on Hudson River Blue. His signing was meant to alleviate the unmitigated outrage over the grotesque, egregious mismanagement of the Lampard/Manchester City contractual fiasco (read: repeated lies). For a time, his presence did ease that tension– his opening day goal at the Citrus Bowl was an absolute peach. But he literally hasn't created a chance for himself since that massive day in March. I can't say with confidence that he'll be a part of New York City's long-term plans, especially considering that he's tying up a boatload of allocation money to keep his contract under DP level.
3) Some of NYCFC's role players have been the team's most pleasant surprises this year – Poku, McNamara, Ballouchy, etc. How has Jason Kreis gotten these players to contribute, particularly while waiting for guys like Lampard to get going?
It’s cool that Ballouchy scored a couple early goals this year. After all, one of the guys from Once a Metro referred to him as “Brigadier Backpass.” Nice to see him find the net when the Boys in Blue were still searching for their stride. By the middle of the season, however, Mehdi Ballouchy revealed himself to be, well, Mehdi Ballouchy. But hey, thanks for the curler against Portland (which came after he missed a much easier chance in the first half).
As for Kwadwo Poku and Tommy McNamara, they started together for the first time at PPL Park on June 6. That night, Poku assisted on McNamara’s opening goal and New York City ended a disgusting 11-match winless run in thrilling fashion. It was not a coincidence.
The two have combined for 11 goals in all competitions, and constituted an adrenaline shot straight to the heart of NYCFC. We haven't seen much of them since all three DPs got match fit, but the young guns served an indispensable purpose while the fans were desperately waiting for the star men to get situated. T-Mac made a home for himself out wide to the left, while Poku shifted between second striker and the right wing.
Each guy brings physicality, a thirst for winning the ball, and creativity with the ball at their feet. McNamara is a better finisher, while Poku is the superior chance creator. With David Villa in front of them and Pirlo behind, these two have produced some of the finest highlights for NYCFC this year. Poku needs to enhance his defensive contribution and figure out how to better manage his stamina, but the raw product so far is incredibly encouraging (in his debut MLS season, he's landed at No. 7 on the league's annual "24 Under 24" list).
As Raf mentioned on this week’s PawedCast, rumors have fluttered that McNamara is in Jason Kreis’s doghouse. I don’t know how that could possibly be the case — T-Mac is incredibly down-to-earth in person, carrying himself with the kind of air that belies his 24 years. But how else can one explain his absence while fit? All I can think of is that Kreis trusts Ned Grabavoy with his life on that left wing, those two having spent so much time together at Real Salt Lake.
This season is going to end, almost surely, without a playoff appearance for New York City. The cupboard is anything but bare going forward. McNamara and Poku are essential pieces for this club; not just for the on-field product, but with the fans as well. Ballouchy might not stick around past the end of his contract, but the youth movement projects to be plenty strong for New York’s newest team.
* * *
Big thanks to Sam for helping us get to know more about our enemies. I do, however, opine that Pirlo did a masterful job of giving the ball to Poku in that 5-3 loss and it was Poku that destroyed us. Oh well. One man's opinion.
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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.)
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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