Happy New Year once again to all of our faithful longtime readers, and those who have recently stumbled across our site. We here at The Mane Land have just completed our sixth calendar year at SB Nation, and, as always, there’s a lot for us to look back and reflect on from the previous
365 366 days years.
The 2020 calendar year is widely considered the most horrific of our lives. Between the global pandemic, civil unrest, the most contentious political year in recorded history, and the deaths of many legends in sports and music (and just generally great people), we are left emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and psychologically off kilter.
The arrival of 2021 isn’t going to magically fix everything, but for me it represents a psychological boost. I’m spent after 2020. In addition to all of the stuff I mentioned above, pandemic cutbacks cost me my paying job in early November, so my personal stress levels ratcheted way up as the year came to an end.
I probably wrote more than I ever have before in 2020 and much of that was out of necessity. As has been the trend, our staff shrunk a bit this past year, with some writers leaving, and the rest being pulled in too many directions by their everyday lives to contribute as much as they previously have. Additionally, because of the pandemic, the condensed season threw games at us faster and more furiously than ever before. You may have noticed my byline showing up a lot more in 2020 than in previous years as a result.
I’d have to sift through carefully to confirm it, but I believe I wrote at least one post-match article about every single Orlando City match in 2020 — and more than one on several occasions. I also covered some of the (too few) Orlando Pride matches. And then there was the Concacaf Champions League. It was here, and so off I went, writing until the wee hours of the morning multiple times to bring you coverage of the prestigious tournament here in our own backyard. It was an honor to cover the event but I’ve never been so tired.
Don’t take the above to mean that I’m done, although there were some days when I wasn’t sure how much longer I can do this. Burnout is real, especially with everything we went through in 2020. But I still get great joy out of covering these teams and this sport. I’m just saying a few more hands around here wouldn’t hurt. If you like talking about soccer, you might enjoy writing about it as well. Even if you think you’re not a good writer, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s a lot of fun and you might like it. Here’s how you can get involved.
OK, enough about my exhaustion. Let’s talk more about the past year. I am beyond thrilled that our contacts continued to give us clear direction on which transfer rumors should be taken seriously in 2020 and which ones are just fluff. They continue to make us look good and I’m grateful they put their trust in us to report things with integrity and fairness. As long as I’m here, we will never be a site to just throw things at the wall in hopes that something sticks so we can crow about being right.
We will only report what we have learned from trustworthy sources and sometimes that isn’t very popular with some readers, who can be a little upset when we shoot down an exciting and juicy rumor they want to come true. But we feel like you’d rather hear the truth about whether Lionel Messi is or isn’t actually on his way to Central Florida (he’s not…at least not in the foreseeable future). Kudos to the TML staff for developing and maintaining their lasting relationships.
We did add three new writers in 2020 and are hopefully on the verge of adding another as the calendar turns to 2021. I want to offer a big thanks to Joshua Taylor, Daniel Finton, and Topher Adams, who all joined the staff this year as writers. We also temporarily added editor Elliot Evans, who helped me out tremendously between February and July before moving on. I currently edit the site five nights a week in addition to my writing work here, so if you’re an editor with some free time, please consider joining us.
We lost some folks, as I mentioned. The Bearded Guy left us in early March, and while we expected him to return once things got less hectic in his life, that hasn’t happened. I’ve reached out to Tom a couple of times and things seem to be as busy as ever for our bearded friend. We thank him for contributing more than 200 stories since joining in August of 2017. Alek Pierce also left us in March after contributing just over 120 stories since March of 2018. I’d like to thank both of them for their contributions to the site.
Our staff continues to be fairly small in comparison to my vision and ambition for the site and really there’s only a small core of the staff that does the majority of the writing. As such, we have scaled back some coverage recently, including that of our national teams — although we could hardly ignore Chris Mueller’s USMNT debut, could we? Our friends at Stars and Stripes FC have that well covered, so for now we have had to pull back on preview/how to watch pieces and recaps. There may be some further attrition of coverage and stories you’re used to until we can either free up some current staff to write more often or add more contributors. We hope there won’t be a lot of that, but I’d rather let you know in advance if you wonder where some of your favorite recurring items have gone.
As we look back at 2020, I want to thank Sean Rollins for his continuing tireless coverage of Orlando City B. We don’t know exactly what OCB’s future looks like right now, but when the Young Lions return, we know Sean will want to cover them. I want to thank David Rohe, my co-host on The Mane Land PawedCast and one of our longest tenured writers. He has been the site’s biggest cheerleader this year and a good sounding board throughout the years. Every week seemed like Festivus as I aired my grievances to Dave before and/or after we recorded the PawedCast. He was enthusiastic when I suggested we devote a segment of the show each week to a full Marvel Cinematic Universe rewatch during the pandemic stoppage and that was a fun diversion while we waited for soccer to return. We thank all of you for indulging that non-soccer content and for your #AskTMLPC questions this year. You challenge us and make it fun. We appreciate it.
Speaking of the PawedCast, we did more shows in 2020 than in previous years, owing to Orlando City’s season extending into late November. We published 45 podcasts in 2020 and had an increase in guests, with 32 different guests across 28 of the 45 shows. We had more shows with multiple guests than ever before, with five shows featuring two. We thank Luiz Muzzi and Miguel Gallardo for each coming on twice in 2020 and the PawedCast also featured exclusive interviews with Joey DeZart, Kamal Miller, Seb Hines, Oscar Pareja, Amanda Duffy — those last two on our milestone 200th episode! — Paul Tenorio, Marc Skinner, and Jamie Watson. It was tougher to get players this year with the team playing every few days, but we still managed a lot of guests. And thanks to our fellow SBN bloggers for jumping on with us — often on extremely short notice — to let us know about their teams ahead of matches.
As always, I’m indebted to and thankful for editor Marcus Mitchell, who helps me edit the copy here and occasionally jumps in and helps with some of the writing and/or some of the social media posts. Marcus can write. I hope we see more contributions from him in that area.
I also want to give a shout-out to writers Scott Carnevale, Guilherme Torres, Ben Miller, and Jenn Glasheen. Jenn had to scale back her involvement this year due to the effects the pandemic adding complexities to her real job and we missed having her around as much this year, both on the site and in our staff Slack channel. We also missed having Jack McAwesome, who didn’t have time this year to provide Orlando Pride player grades, even though the team played a lot fewer games than any of us would have liked.
Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank our TML family of readers. We have no reason to exist as a site without you and we appreciate that you continue to make us one of SB Nation’s most popular MLS sites. This was a down year for page views for everyone, as real life got too real and sapped many people’s enjoyment of our pastimes and hobbies. In fact, with what we all went through this year, we are humbled that you would spend any of your time with us. God knows there were more important things going on.
We hope to bounce back in 2021 and we hope you all bounce back as well. We appreciate your comments. You keep us on our toes. I personally enjoy discussing the team in the comments section and I know sometimes we don’t agree on stuff, but that’s a good thing. The world would be boring if we all thought the same thing all the time.
Please continue to provide feedback in the comments section at the bottom of our stories. Your ideas are always welcome. Let us know what we’re doing well and what you’d like to see more of. What can you live without? What can’t you live without?
Thanks for joining us for a surprisingly successful 2020 season on the pitch. While most things were horrible in 2020, the Lions were a welcome distraction. It was nice to see (and to cover) Orlando City’s tournament run all the way to the final and to be able to report on not one, but two OCSC playoff games. There are positive things we’ll never forget from 2020 — Chris Mueller’s growth, Daryl Dike’s emergence, the “full Mauricio Pereyra” experience, more Nani magic, Rodrigo Schlegel’s unlikely heroics, El Pulpo’s awesomeness, and more.
We hope to bring you more happy content in 2021 and more moments of glory. We’ll have fun either way because it’s soccer and soccer is a lot like pizza — even when it’s bad, it’s kind of good. We just hope that all of the non-soccer stuff improves in all of your lives this coming year. Have a safe, healthy, happy 2021 everyone.
Reflecting on Eight Years with The Mane Land
A look back over my time with The Mane Land (so far).
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.
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.
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