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Putting Orlando City’s U.S. Open Cup Run in Perspective



I’m not here to sugar coat Orlando City’s loss to Atlanta United last night in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal. It was a disappointing performance from the team and just a little sharper play could have produced a truly magical result. The players know this and they were “gutted” after last night’s game in Head Coach James O’Connor’s words.

Losing in the final or the final four just seems to hurt more than it does in Round 4 or 5. Coming close to the pinnacle makes it a bit more agonizing, but in the end, only one team’s fans will be happy at the end of the tournament. The best the rest can hope for is satisfaction.

Even though last night’s result was disappointing, it’s important to keep Orlando City’s run in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup in its proper perspective. I’m not talking about simply looking at the bright side or making any excuses for the team’s performance. I just want to discuss the overall picture in the wake of the team’s departure from the competition.


The Eastern Conference’s ninth-place team, Orlando City was one of the last four MLS clubs standing overall, and one of the last two from the conference. Before the season, if most fans knew the Lions would reach the semifinals of the competition, they probably would have been excited at that prospect and eager to see it play out. In hindsight, we’re left wanting more, because that’s simply how sports fans are wired. It’s easy to forget that it’s Orlando’s deepest run yet in the competition and something that (hopefully) the club can build on.

The U.S. Open Cup was always going to be an uphill battle for Orlando. After an expected win at Memphis, the Lions ousted two teams above them in the conference standings to reach the semifinals. The Lions beat a hot New England team — providing the only blemish on the Revolution’s record since May until the Revs recently lost to LAFC. Orlando then took out New York City FC in one of the most memorable matches in the club’s history.

The “Running of the Wall” is a moment that will never be forgotten and is sure to end up high on our list of top moments of 2019. No one can take away those moments. They’re special and, even if it’s difficult to do so this soon after elimination, those moments should be savored.

In the end, Orlando doesn’t have as talented a roster as Atlanta and, having never beaten that club, last night was always going to be difficult. It would have been a tremendous upset to have won that match, but alas, here we are. Oftentimes talent prevails.

USOC Provides Roster Analysis

We learned a lot about the team during the 2019 Cup run. Orlando has as deep of a holding midfield as just about anyone. It didn’t matter if it was Will Johnson and Sebas Mendez out there or Uri Rosell and Dillon Powers. All the team’s defensive mids played well. The Lions have some promising young players, including Benji Michel, who provided a moment of magic in the 96th minute against the Revolution.

Weaknesses of the team were exposed, however. With the fixtures coming fast and furious, some of the rotation didn’t work. O’Connor clearly went for the win against Dallas on Saturday and then again played Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson on Tuesday night. It showed a lack of faith in using other players in central defense, which isn’t surprising, given that Shane O’Neill and Alex De John have been in concussion protocol and Carlos Ascues played the full 97 minutes Saturday in the midfield. Rookie Kamal Miller could have played, but O’Connor stuck with his first-choice guys, believing they would be fully recovered.

This is in contrast to Atlanta, which is much deeper on the back line. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez didn’t play Saturday against the LA Galaxy while Michael Parkhurst sat the bench both Saturday and Tuesday for Atlanta. For Orlando to get to where Atlanta is, the quality of the central defense depth must be upgraded. If O’Connor and Luiz Muzzi believe that De John, Miller, and O’Neill can provide that, then those players must be called into action when fresh troops are needed — and they must deliver.

At fullback, it may be telling that neither Kyle Smith nor Danilo Acosta dressed for last night’s match. Both were fresh. Both are U.S. players. While both have been serviceable, this is an area the club may want to improve.

With Santiago Patino away on international duty, there weren’t many options for rotation up top. Nani should have been fresh and he honestly played better than many fans on social media have given him credit for — a team-high four chances created (two of which should have ultimately been assists on goals that were not scored), a team-high 77 touches, a shot attempt, seven defensive recoveries. The 75% passing rate wasn’t as good as you’d expect, but I credit Atlanta’s smothering defense for at least 10% of the unsuccessful part of that equation.

Dom Dwyer is rightfully being criticized for missing the target in the 19th minute, although that miss was, in my mind, no worse than Sacha Kljestan’s in the second half. This came just moments after a very nice finish on an offside play, so it was extremely disappointing. If only those finishes were reversed, we could have had a different outcome. Dwyer hasn’t played much in recent weeks and after going 72 minutes on Saturday night, I expected him to start on the bench and come on as a sub later. Instead, it was Chris Mueller starting on the bench after he struggled in his 54 minutes against Dallas.

Tesho Akindele might tell you he felt good entering last night but his play seemed to indicate fatigue, nerves, or both. His touch was poor, he often made the wrong decisions, and he lost a lot more 1-v-1 battles than we’ve seen throughout the season. Even his shots didn’t seem to have the usual threat in them.

We’ve known since the preseason that the team needs more attacking depth. Entering the year with only two rookies behind Dwyer and Akindele (Mueller, for all he does well, is not an MLS caliber striker, though he’s fine as a winger or other adjacent roles) was never a great position in which to be. A deeper well at forward would have done wonders for the fixture schedule this week. Perhaps Michel and Santiago will provide that in the future or someone new could be brought in.

The goalkeeper position is solid, if unspectacular. Both Brian Rowe and Adam Grinwis have acquitted themselves well in 2019. While they may lack the big name of a Brad Guzan, the club is fine at the position.

Progress Has Been Made

Finally, the deep run in the U.S. Open Cup shows the transformation of Orlando City’s culture and mentality. O’Connor has made the Lions a difficult out. Teams that used to show up and push Orlando around the field — Dallas and Atlanta are two examples of this — are now finding it much tougher to get results against City. Not everything is fixed, obviously, but this is a mentally tough team. Many teams would have folded after giving up that 96th-minute goal to New York City FC. Previous incarnations of OCSC might have conceded two or three more goals in extra time of that match. This year’s Lions fought back.

Kljestan was extremely critical of Orlando City’s culture at the end of 2018. After last night’s match, he talked about how the team was not quite there yet but it’s getting closer to where it needs to be. He’s right. You can’t watch the 2019 Lions and see “same old, same old.” The effort level could often be questioned last season. I defy anyone to go back and watch the away match at Chicago last September and tell me they’ve seen a performance like that from the Lions this season.

The first step in becoming a winning team is to become a team that’s difficult to beat. That’s half the battle. The other half is shoring up roster weaknesses and building confidence in the group — the swagger that successful teams have that make them expect victory every time out rather than battle hard and hope for it on a night-to-night basis. Orlando has become much more difficult to beat. A simple comparison of the team’s 2018 and 2019 scorelines illustrates that quite clearly. But the next step must be taken. It’s possible that this year’s Cup run can be a springboard to that, but we’ll have to find out about that in the weeks to come.


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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