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Minnesota United’s Success Shows Orlando City’s Lack of Patience Hindered Its Progress



Orlando City is in its fifth season in Major League Soccer since making the jump from the USL. In some ways the club has been a model organization, doing a number of things correctly, but one glaring area where it has fallen short is in maintaining early momentum.

Part of that can be attributed to less visibility in the community (where have all the car magnets gone?). But much of it can also be blamed on a poor on-field product which fell just shy of “defying expectations” in 2015 and then diminished for the next three consecutive years, hitting its nadir with 2018’s dismal 8-22-4 season.

Last year’s season of futility included four separate streaks of three or more losses after a club-record six-match winning streak. In addition, the Lions won only one game and picked up six measly points after July 14.

Things are already somewhat improved in 2019, but it’s difficult to look at Minnesota United’s success across the board this season and wonder what might have been had Orlando’s front office not been so damned impatient in its MLS infancy. Specifically, the club fired original manager Adrian Heath midway through the team’s second MLS season.

Heath has taken expansion Minnesota United from the usual first-year doormat to the cusp of something special in the team’s third year in MLS. The Loons are in the thick of the playoff race, sitting third in the Western Conference standings, and will play Atlanta later this month in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final. The fact that this is taking place in Minnesota’s third year in Major League Soccer is significant (more on that later).

Back in 2015, Orlando City brought its USL coach and several players forward with the move to MLS. The club signed superstar Kaká, a few additional veterans, and some young promising players to try to strike a balance between experience and young talent. Heath, the club’s original coach, had a three-year plan for success and came just a few points short of piloting his Lions to a playoff spot in Orlando’s expansion season. That 44-point season and the team’s 12 wins that year remain the club’s best totals to date.

Things seemed to be on track as 2016 began. The Lions started out undefeated in their first four matches, going 2-0-2 with a +4 goal differential. That unbeaten run should have stretched to six. A road loss to Philadelphia came in Game 5, with the Professional Referees Organization issuing an apology to Orlando afterwards, stating that Tranquillo Barnetta’s free kick goal should not have counted. The Lions then went on to draw New England nine days later after a horrific handball call on Servando Carrasco by referee Baldomero Toledo gave Lee Nguyen an easy 96th-minute equalizer.

You can certainly argue whether Kevin Molino’s seeming game winner should also have been nullified, but without video review at the time, it was a much more understandable mistake. Heath said at the time he felt the call on Carrasco was a make-up call, but who would have alerted Toledo for the need to have one? Certainly New England players, but since when should a referee listen to one team’s appeal on something he didn’t see? If the assistant referee had seen a handball, he should have raised his flag. Without a VAR in his headset, it’s unlikely Toledo was making up a call to offset something he couldn’t have known was an error. But, I digress.

The bigger point is that Heath had his club two blown calls from a 3-0-3 mark after six games to start 2016. A 3-2 road loss at Red Bulls — the eventual Eastern Conference champion — followed in Game 7 and that match also had its own officiating issues. While Orlando led 1-0, Karl Ouimette appeared to foul Cyle Larin from behind on a breakaway in the 63rd minute and it wasn’t called. Had it been, Ouimette would have been sent off with the hosts already behind on the scoreboard. Instead, New York scored twice in the next six minutes to seize control of the match.

The Lions then posted consecutive draws at New England and home against the Red Bulls, before falling at eventual playoff side Sporting Kansas City. Heath then guided Orlando to a 3-0-3 streak to run the Lions’ record to 4-3-8. Sure, some of those draws were frustrating — less so than some of the calls that had led to dropped points — but things seemed to generally be headed in the right direction under Heath in Year 2.

Then the bottom dropped out in a one-week span and management blew things up.

It started with a 2-1 loss at home in the U.S. Open Cup to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Future Lion PC scored a 120th-minute stunner in extra time to steal a result in a match the Lions had completely dominated. Orlando had hit the woodwork multiple times — particularly striker Hadji Barry — and out-shot Fort Lauderdale 20-1 after halftime, but an outstanding night by Strikers goalkeeper Diego Restepo sent the NASL side through.

Five days later, the Lions visited eventual Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas and lost 4-0 on July 4. Did the loss to Fort Lauderdale linger? Did the holiday match away from home affect the team’s mentality? Was it simply a matter of losing to a superior side? Some people believe it was a player revolt. If it was, it was a one-game revolt, because many of the starters didn’t play in the U.S. Open Cup match and the team had certainly been performing well enough prior to the loss to the Strikers, including fighting back to beat Toronto for the first time ever in the 100th minute.

Whatever it was, it ended up being Heath’s final game in charge.

Heath was sacked two days later, a news dump that took place in the evening, which we learned about in real time while recording the Mane Land PawedCast. At the time, the Lions were battling at the cusp of the playoff positions and had no prolonged losing spells typically associated with a coach being fired. The USOC loss and subsequent defeat at Dallas represented the team’s only consecutive losses in 2016 to that point. Orlando had lost five matches in all competitions and four in league play — all on the road and all to eventual playoff teams, with two of them coming with dubious officiating influence on the outcomes. The Lions went on to lose seven more times without Heath, winning five and drawing six more (three of those six draws came under interim coach Bobby Murphy).

Popular with the fans, Heath had been a Phil Rawlins appointee back before the club — then in the USL — had even moved to Orlando. He was never the choice of majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva or his number one front office hire, Alex Leitao. They inherited Rawlins’ choice. It’s not hard to imagine they had bigger names in mind for the position. Before playing his own way out of Orlando later on, Rawlins himself supported the firing publicly, although whether he privately agreed with it or was just being a good soldier and showing solidarity is something only he knows for sure.

Heath lamented — as all coaches do when fired — that he didn’t get a chance to see his project through to its conclusion, but specifically brought up a three-year plan (see? I told you we’d get back to that), which he said ownership had agreed to when he was officially named the team’s head coach entering MLS. Rosters, after all, typically take time to build correctly (please don’t @ me with outliers like Atlanta or LAFC). The team had not yet had time to build sufficient depth, had sustained considerable injuries in key positions, and had missed on some players who were expected to contribute more regularly.

Heath had been getting results regularly to that point of 2016 with a central defense tandem of David Mateos and a one-legged Seb Hines!

When I spoke to then-GM Paul McDonough after he left the club and joined Atlanta, he admitted to me that he had made some mistakes in going “too young” at the start and said he’d learned a lot from that initial roster build. Likewise, I’m sure Heath learned a lot from his first year as an MLS head coach, and has continued to gain wisdom and experience with Minnesota.

Orlando City had erred in its handling of McDonough, who the club undermined by hiring a “chief soccer officer” above him in early November of 2015. Carlos Carneiro made zero impact on Orlando City other than to run McDonough out of town in his whopping 55 days at the club in late 2015, and paved the way for Rawlins to hold the GM position on an interim basis and Niki Budalic to eventually get the job. In retrospect, this was likely Orlando’s biggest error on the technical side in the club’s history, but the firing of Heath may prove to not be far behind.

Had Heath been given the three years of his plan, there’s no guarantee it would be Orlando City battling for a home field playoff position or set to make an appearance in the U.S. Open Cup final. There is no guarantee the Lions would be better off now than they are. After all, there are no guarantees of any kind in life.

But, in a season in which that erroneously allowed Barnetta goal turned out to be the difference between making and missing the playoffs in 2016 — the Lions would have finished level on points with New England with a better goal differential, while the Union would have had two fewer points to finish behind Orlando — it seems in hindsight that keeping Heath would have been a better play. He had not lost at home in league play and hadn’t lost a game to a non-playoff team all season at the time of his firing. That may or may not have contributed, but even if the team was almost that good the rest of the way, the entire trajectory of Orlando City may have been quite improved.

Today, Heath has had nearly his three years of system installation, growing pains, and roster building. Minnesota United management has been patient with him despite some fan support for his firing as early as the team’s first year and certainly into 2018. The Loons conceded 70 goals and amassed only 36 points in their first year, then conceded 71 times last year while putting up the same 36 points. It would have been understandable to make a change and move on from Heath.

But Minnesota took another path, continued to build the roster, and gave Heath his third year. He’s rewarded the club’s patience with more points already this season (38), 11 wins, a sparkling 7-1-4 home record, and a trip to the USOC final. One more victory would give Minnesota its highest win total to date and equal Orlando’s best ever, which came under Heath in 2015.

The Loons’ success in 2019 definitely calls into question whether Orlando City’s management did the right thing in 2016, and one can’t help but wonder where the Lions would be in their development as an organization if OCSC had shown the same kind of patience as Minnesota United.

But the Lions didn’t learn much from the quick trigger with Heath. His replacement, Jason Kreis, also was given just about a year-and-a-half before being fired. Kreis’ team was actually above the playoff line in 2018 when he was let go, despite an incredible rash of injuries to the back line and the team’s only viable striker.

Current gaffer James O’Connor is nearing the end of his first full season as head coach after replacing Kreis. Some outlets speculate that O’Connor’s tenure may come to an end if the team struggles down the stretch, with Sirius XM host Jason Davis saying on his broadcast that it could have come after the FC Dallas match prior to the Lions winning that game.

It wouldn’t be surprising if O’Connor is on the hot seat when one considers that Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was not with the team yet when the coach was hired. GMs, after all, like to select their own coaches. But if O’Connor — considered to be one of the best young coaches available at the time of his hiring — is let go during or after 2019, it would show that the club has continued to learn very little from its own past.

O’Connor is the first coach to improve upon the previous season’s point total, although that was a low bar following 2018. Despite the team being in the midst of a rebuild, he has a shot at leading the team to the playoffs and to its best-ever point total. He has already led it to its deepest U.S. Open Cup run. But the team may also finish ninth or 10th in the East. If that happens, and he’s let go, one has to wonder what, if anything, the leadership of Orlando City has learned in five years from the Adrian Heath example.


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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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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