Staff Roundtable Week 10: Orlando City at Sporting Kansas City
Orlando City’s winless skid now stands at five games (2-0-3) after another draw last weekend against the New York Red Bulls. Things don’t get any easier, with the Lions headed on the road to play a desperate Sporting Kansas City team in a hostile environment - without Head Coach Adrian Heath. Meanwhile, the Pride defeated NWSL power Seattle Reign FC 2-0 on Mother’s Day to even their record at 2-2. They’ll host Western New York Flash on Saturday before playing the next four on the road.
The Lions beat SKC last season at home, but this time they’ll be leaving Dom Dwyer’s spiritual home to visit his actual one. Sporting has a formidable lineup that includes Dwyer, Brad Davis, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi. Here to talk about Orlando’s previous game and next one, and to weigh in on the Pride, are Sean Rollins and Andrew Harrison. And I’m calling my own number this week, so my answers are below as well (please be gentle with me).
Orlando City played well against New York Red Bulls for long stretches, particularly in the second half, but couldn't find a second goal. What are your thoughts on the result and the game overall?
Sean: While the team did dominate parts of the game, it had trouble once again in the final third. I think the result was disappointing due to how well the team played for stretches of the game. At the end of the game it doesn't matter how you play if you're not getting results and the team is not getting the results right now.
Andrew: The game was really a tale of two clubs. In the first half and some of the second, we were sluggish and moved with very little purpose, almost inviting the high-press style that (Head Coach) Jesse Marsch likes to play and inviting the Red Bulls to have a go. However, that second half 30-minute display gave me some hope for the future of this team, but it does concern me that we believe this to be the strongest lineup for our franchise at the moment and yet it looked like we were always just playing for that draw rather than trying to grab all three points at home.
Michael: The Red Bulls definitely got on the front foot early with their high pressure and Seb Hines got lost on the first goal, although there were others who equally at fault with their positioning. After Orlando City settled into the match, I thought they were the better team and definitely looked the likelier team to score as the game neared its conclusion. It’s a pity that Cristian Higuita took that red card because Heath was about to bring on some fresh troops for the final push to get three points. I thought it was a good response to the poor performance at Red Bull Arena and I thought Darwin Ceren was particularly good. Antonio Nocerino played his best game so far combining down the left with Brek Shea to protect against Lloyd Sam — a player who provided lots of danger in the first meeting.
It wasn't a perfect game for Antonio Nocerino, but it may have been his best outing with Orlando so far, as he did a lot of little, hidden things well, like helping Brek Shea deal with Lloyd Sam. Is the Italian starting to finally find his footing in MLS?
Andrew: I don't think so. Rather, I think we have seen enough abject performances from him lately that any improvement is worth celebrating. He has eventually started to learn his role on the left side, however, since he was asked to play a similar role back earlier in his career at Palermo in Serie A. It is troubling that we are just starting to see a glimmer of hope. However, Shea also played his part, but since Shea had to assist Nocerino in keeping Sam out of the game, Orlando was basically a non-threat on the left flank and our performance suffered overall.
Michael: Antonio Nocerino isn’t there yet but I think he did play his best game so far combining down the left with Brek Shea to protect against Lloyd Sam — a player who provided lots of danger in the first meeting - and helped cut off supply from Sacha Kljestan/Felipe to the right wing. Nocerino, like a lot of other foreign players before him, is going through his adjustment period, which can last anywhere from a few games up to a full season. This is not a new thing in MLS and unfortunately, only getting games will help him through this period. It’s easy to forget that he hadn’t played any competitive soccer since August and missed Orlando City’s training camp. He was able to train, but that’s not the same.
Sean: I think it’s less of Nocerino finding his footing in MLS and more of finding his place in the team. I think Nocerino is a skilled player that can do a lot to help this team. While I don’t think he’ll have the impact of a player like Kaká, I think a big impact he’ll have is on speed of play. Really the only two players currently on the team that play with a high pace that cause trouble are Kaká, Kevin Molino, and sometimes Brek Shea. I think Nocerino has the ability to play at the pace of Kaká and Molino, which can cause problems for the opposition.
Cristian Higuita will serve his red card suspension on Sunday. Do we see Adrian Heath change shape or is does he straight swap Servando Carrasco in for the young Colombian?
Michael: Well, the first thing we'll see is no Adrian Heath (thanks, DisCo). My assumption is that Mark Watson will be instructed to keep the same lineup but slot Servando Carrasco into the middle of the central defense. Carrasco has played well this season when called upon. I just hope he doesn't get hit in the crest with the ball when he's in his own penalty area.
Sean: Despite the fact that a lot of people hate on Carrasco, he is good at his role. He's not at the level of Darwin Ceren or Cristian Higuita, but he's a solid backup. If Heath does change shape, I don't think it will be because Higuita is out. I think it'll be putting a second striker up with Larin due to the team's troubles finishing chances.
Andrew: The one thing we know about Heath is that he doesn't change anything unless he has to. Therefore, I can't see him changing shape and will just go with the straight swap since he will want to keep the team in his preferred formation and with a capable replacement in Servando Carrasco who is match fit and capable of playing the full 90, it is the obvious choice.
Next up is Sporting Kansas City. Although SKC has struggled in recent weeks, this is a formidable opponent in a difficult stadium. What is the key match-up for OSCS at Sporting?
Sean: Benny Feilhaber is Sporting KC's most dangerous player, likely deserving a call-up by Jurgen Klinsmann. While many will be focused on striker Dom Dwyer, the job for Darwin Ceren will be to keep Feilhaber from punishing the Lions. One of the best attacking midfielders against one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. For me, that will be the match-up to watch.
Goalkeepers Joe Bendik and Ashlyn Harris Excel at Orlando’s Toughest Job
Joe Bendik and Ashlyn Harris have arguably the hardest job in Orlando sports being the goalkeepers for their respective teams. We take a look at how they got here and how they have become favorites among the fans.
Andrew: My key match-up is how a struggling Orlando City defense will handle the front line of Dom Dwyer and MLS veteran Brad Davis. Both players have been struggling in recent weeks to get on the score sheet, however, if the Orlando defense lets them get one (which is very possible) then that rust will disappear quickly. However, if they are able to keep them quiet until after halftime in their home stadium, then I believe we stand a fighting chance of leaving Children's Mercy Park with three points.
Michael: For me it’s Orlando City’s attacking players against the back line of SKC and goalkeeper Tim Melia. Matt Besler didn’t play midweek at Colorado so he’ll be fresh, but the team will be without Ike Opara, who got two yellow cards against the Rapids. So, will Nuno Coelho and Besler be that center back pairing? Cyle Larin needs to get back on the score sheet after finding the net only once in his last six games, so the Canadian’s battle with that back line and Melia is key. Kaká, who hasn’t scored in open play in a while, and Kevin Molino, who has been on fire, will need to help Larin.
How do you see Sunday's game playing out and what is your final score prediction?
Andrew: Before SKC’s game on Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids, I would have said this would have been a difficult game for Orlando. However, SKC’s struggles continued on Wednesday, losing 1-0 and having defender Ike Opara sent off and, with that in mind, Head Coach Peter Vermes will not be able to utilize his typical squad rotation plans on a short game week. When you couple this with an Orlando City side that has something to prove, I think Orlando City takes the game to Kansas City and runs out 2-1 winners.
Michael: The Lions have to contend with a difficult road environment and a desperate team. The last time that happened, they got dominated at Red Bull Arena and only a heroic effort from Joe Bendik kept them from being embarrassed. Sporting Kansas City is about as talented as New York and I think they’ll come out with everything they’ve got, forcing the Lions to weather an early storm. Orlando City has done better against Western Conference teams for some reason and hopefully they can withstand that early energy by SKC. I am calling this a 1-1 draw with Orlando finally scoring a goal from outside the penalty area.
Sean: Sporting KC is a dangerous team and playing at Children's Mercy Park is difficult. Getting a draw would be successful result for the Lions but I think they'll fall 3-1.
Tom Sermanni's Pride put together its best 90-minute performance of the season on Mother's Day against Seattle Reign FC. What was the most impressive aspect of the win?
Michael: It has to be the defensive performance. The back four played brilliantly, giving Ashlyn Harris a pretty quiet afternoon for a change (although she still managed a Save of the Week candidate after an unfortunate heavy touch by Laura Alleway). But it was more than the back line. The midfield did well to keep Kim Little from being herself and that was the result of a good team effort. The insertion of first-round pick Sam Witteman into the midfield worked well, as she was pesky all day, winning balls along the sidelines. It was a great team win.
Sean: I think the most important part of the win was how well the back line played. For the first time this season, Ashlyn Harris wasn't asked to make some terrific saves to preserve the three points. I think it was only a matter of time until you started seeing the back four getting used to playing with each other and I think Sunday was a turning point for them.
Andrew: The biggest takeaway from this win was the fact that the team was basically able to keep the front line of the Reign quiet. The Pride defense that has looked shaky in recent weeks was able to keep a clean sheet against the well-orchestrated midfield of Kim Little and company and they were able to see off any moments of danger against Seattle's three up top. Both of those things are excellent aspects for the Pride to continue building upon.
How can the Pride keep their mojo going Saturday when the Western New York Flash come to town?
Sean: I think the Pride are in good shape and right now it's just about the players getting used to each other. They've looked quite good in all four games so far and I think the more they play together, the better they'll get.
Andrew: They just have to keep doing what they have been doing. Both losses for the Pride have been down to momentary defensive breakdowns, so if they can stamp those out, this is a team that can continue to win week in and week out. The Western New York Flash are currently tied with the Pride on points but have a negative goal differential, so if the Pride can get up early they should be able to bring home the victory on Saturday night.
Michael: The simple answer here is to continue to build chemistry. But I think it’s important for the Pride’s mojo to get Alex Morgan a goal. She’s the captain and the face of the franchise, and although she’s contributed even when she’s not scoring — with that pretty assist on Sarah Hagen’s goal, for example — she truly strikes fear into the other team when she’s finding the net. We’ve seen that on both the club and international level. If Morgan can hit the target on Saturday, she can not only deflate the Flash, but also lift her teammates’ confidence.
* * *
And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 10 as Orlando City prepares for a date with SKC and the Pride get set to host Western New York Flash in a key early-season NWSL battle.
Feel free to add your answers to the questions above or explain why our staff is right/wrong in their predictions or analysis in the comments section below.
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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