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Ercan Kara’s First Season at Orlando City Was Better Than You Think



Some Orlando City fans (not all, but some, and you know who you are) don’t seem happy unless there is something to complain about. That’s not unique to the OCSC fan base, nor is it confined to soccer. Sports, in general, lends itself to nitpicking by fans of even the most successful teams. No team in sport is ever going to do everything right 100% of the time. Even the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins could have been better in several areas.

One of the areas this year where Orlando fans on social media and here on this site have been critical is the team’s offense. That’s a completely fair criticism for a team that scored just 44 goals in 34 games. Only two teams in the Eastern Conference and six teams in the entire league scored fewer goals. But, just like NFL fans are quick to jump on starting quarterback play and lay far too much credit/blame at that one player’s feet, some Orlando fans have largely taken out their frustrations on the Lions’ Designated Player striker, Ercan Kara.

Blaming Kara for Orlando’s offensive struggles is completely oversimplifying a complex problem. Strikers, like quarterbacks, often get more of both the blame and the credit than they deserve.

When a soccer team’s offense isn’t scoring, the striker can be at fault if he’s missing on an unusually high number of good scoring opportunities. We saw this firsthand when Dom Dwyer fell out of form after his 13-goal 2018 season. Starting in 2019, Dwyer was visibly missing quite badly — regularly — when presented with high-percentage chances to put the ball in the back of the net. It was the most maddening case of the yips in Orlando City history. So, we know what that looks like.

What we have seen this year from Kara has looked nothing like that. He actually finishes his chances at a high rate (more on that below).

But the 26-year-old Austrian also has committed the unpardonable sin of not being Daryl Dike. The former OCSC striker was an immensely popular player among the fanbase for obvious reasons — an infectious personality, great smile, threw around center backs like they were rag dolls, had fun goal celebrations, regularly got under the opponents’ skin, and scored a lot of great goals for the team. He was a special player who could have had several monster years in Orlando, but the club did right by him in granting him his wish and selling him so he could play in Europe.

“The guy who replaces the guy” is often found wanting by fans, even if they’re very good. But if “the guy who replaces the guy” can stick around and keep producing, like Brian Johnson did in AC/DC, he can win those fans over. Kara has the talent to do that and he’s already shown his ability to do it.

Don’t believe me? OK, fine, let’s get into it.

A Ludicrous-Yet-Interesting Comparison

Let’s start off by getting really crazy and comparing Kara to the MLS Golden Boot winner, Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC. Here’s a quick, simple, 2022 season comparison:

Kara: 48 shots, 19 shots on target (39.6%), 11 goals (22.9% shooting percentage, 57.9% on-target shooting percentage) in 1,789 minutes.

Mukhtar: 126 shots, 65 shots on target (51.6%), 23 goals (18.3%, 35.4%) in 2,835 minutes.

Kara doesn’t get quite as many of his total shot attempts on target as Mukhtar from a percentage standpoint (39.6% to Mukhtar’s 51.6%). However, if that seems like a problem, consider that Kara and Austin’s Sebastian Driussi (40.2%), the league’s Golden Boot runner-up with 22 goals, get approximately the same percentage of total shots on frame, and Kara is only a couple of percentage points behind Chicharito in that category as well. So he’s not missing the target notably more than some of the league’s other top strikers.

Kara’s data shows he has actually been a better chance finisher than Mukhtar, scoring on a higher percentage of his total shots (22.9%-18.3%) and on a much higher percentage of his shots on target (57.9%-35.4%) than the league’s goal-scoring leader.

So it’s not Kara’s ability to put the ball in the net that’s the issue, it’s volume, and it would have been interesting to see what Kara would have done had he played 11.6 more games’ worth of minutes (He played a third of an entire season less than Mukhtar! That’s 2,835 minutes compared to 1,789.) to get a more direct comparison with what Mukhtar did. Kara’s 0.55 goals per 90 minutes doesn’t seem too far below Mukhtar’s 0.73 goals per 90, although that adds up over time.

If you’re wondering if Kara is somehow not getting enough shot attempts, it can seem that way in individual games, but Kara is attempting 0.03 shots per minute on the field, not far behind Mukhtar’s 0.04 shots per minute and pretty much even with Driussi. The translation of that is that if Kara had held his shooting rate and played the same number of minutes as Mukhtar, he would have finished the year with 76 shot attempts — tied for the second-highest total in team history, trailing only Dwyer’s 2018 total of 78. That’s actually remarkable given the team’s average shot attempts per game under Oscar Pareja.

To widen the goals-per-90 comparison, Kara’s rate was better than that of Jeremy Ebobisse, Lewis Morgan, and Sebastian Ferreira, and about on par with Julian Carranza, Diego Rubio, and Brandon Vazquez. Those players each scored between 13 and 18 goals on the year. Kara’s 0.55 goals per 90 is just 0.06 less than Jesus Ferreira, who finished fourth in MLS with 18 goals.

In fact, in doing the math, if Kara maintained his goals-per-90 rate of 0.55 for an additional 11.6 games’ worth of minutes (the 1,046 fewer minutes he played than Mukhtar did), he would have completed the season with 17 goals and finished tied for eighth with Ebobisse in the Golden Boot race, just one behind Vazquez, Brenner, Chicharito, and Jesus Ferreira. Those 17 goals would have tied Larin’s club record for goals in a season.

And of the 19 players in MLS who scored more goals than Kara this season, eight of them scored at least four times from the penalty spot to Kara’s one.

If you still think Kara’s this team’s problem (and even if you don’t), read on…

Target Strikers Require Teamwork

Not all goal scorers are built the same. Some of them, like Mukhtar, Carlos Vela, Daniel Gazdag, and Raul Ruidiaz, are sort of hybrid attacking midfielders/strikers. Those like Kara are target strikers and require more help getting the ball in good position — guys like Kacper Przybylko, Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, and Jozy Altidore come to mind, as well as Cyle Larin in his time in Orlando. Dike is also that target-type striker but with the added ability to simply discard a defender through sheer strength to set up their own clear-cut chances.

Watching this team (not the ball, but the team, which is much easier to do in person than on TV), it’s clear that there is not nearly enough being done to get Kara the ball when he’s in a good position to receive it. Early in the year, teams simply swarmed Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pereyra, which effectively choked off the service to Kara. To combat this, Oscar Pareja dropped Pereyra deeper on the pitch to put space between his two best playmakers, and that helped somewhat. So too did the late addition of Ivan Angulo, who is enough of a playmaker on the left side to take some of the opposition’s attention away from Torres and Pereyra.

But, overall this season, there wasn’t enough in the attack from players working down the left channel (Benji Michel, Joao Moutinho, Jake Mulraney, Angulo) or nearly enough from Ruan — the de facto right wing in Orlando’s weirdly shaped attacking formation — on the other side to make teams pay for all the attention they were paying to Torres and Kara (Orlando’s goal scorers) inside. When the ball went into the wide areas, crosses were either off line, delayed in delivery to the point where the defense recovered, or never even attempted. Ruan, in particular, seemed to ignore his ability to get to the end line and often opted instead to curl back and send a slow-rolling pass to Torres at the corner of the box, which immediately put the young Uruguayan under pressure and limited his options.

Torres himself was part of the service issue by being a little too one-footed. Playing mainly on the right side, Torres was reluctant to use his quickness to get up the field and cross in with his weaker right foot. The Young DP can grow out of that by developing his weaker foot, although some players never do (looking at you, Silvester van der Water).

And without center back Robin Jansson in the lineup, there were no balls over the top to reward Kara for his efforts to widen and split opposing center backs, which is what he’s doing while most fans are watching Antonio Carlos, Rodrigo Schlegel, Moutinho, and Cesar Araujo kick the ball around the back to each other. Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman would be pinging that ball forward to pick out Mukhtar in many of those instances.

Even without much service to get him touches, in a season plagued with multiple injuries early in the year — while he was supposed to be building chemistry with his new teammates — and adjusting to a new league and culture, Kara still scored 11 goals, which was one fewer than Vela, a player most people consider pretty good at soccer. Kara played 544 fewer minutes (the equivalent of six fewer games) than the 2019 MLS MVP, and Vela had more goals from the spot.

More Perspective

Only four players who scored more goals than Kara during the 2022 MLS season played fewer minutes than Kara’s 1,789 — D.C.’s Taxi Fountas (12 in 1,469 minutes, of which four were scored in the two meetings with Orlando); Philadelphia’s Mikael Uhre (13 in 1,633); New York City FC’s Valentin Castellanos (13 in 1,463 before transferring to Girona); and Miami’s Gonzalo Higuain (16 in 1,750). So, Kara is also largely being compared by fans to players who were on the field more than he was when they point to his goal total.

By scoring 11 goals this year, Kara gave Orlando City eight consecutive seasons with a double-digit goal scorer. No Major League Soccer team had previously had a double-digit goal scorer in each of its first eight seasons until Orlando did it. Both Kara and Torres have a great shot at getting there next year to extend the streak to nine.

Criticisms of an Orlando striker are nothing new. Some people complained about Larin being “lazy” in seasons when he wasn’t getting as much service. Big strikers who aren’t producing are always accused of being lazy. It was actually that particular criticism that was lazy, not Larin’s play. Neither is Kara lazy and although he doesn’t have blazing speed, he’s got enough pace to be successful in MLS.

Kara scored a fourth of Orlando City’s total goals in 2022 and nearly another fourth was scored by Torres. The issue in Orlando isn’t that the striker isn’t scoring enough, it’s that very few others are scoring much at all (Junior Urso scored five goals, and literally no one else netted more than three), and they’re also not getting their striker the ball enough.

If You Build It, He Will Score

Mukhtar, like Dike, is a special player, and without him, Nashville would be exceedingly average. He scored 23 of his team’s 52 goals this season (44.2%). That’s a lot!

Looking at the best teams in MLS, the numbers aren’t nearly as skewed. Nashville’s scoring leader accounting for close to half of his team’s goals. However, LAFC’s leading goal scorer was Cristian Arango, with 16. That accounted for 24.2% of LAFC’s total for the season — just about what Kara provided for Orlando. Philadelphia’s Daniel Gazdag was one shy of the Golden Boot, with 22 goals. That was 30.5% of the Union’s goal-scoring in 2022. But even with scoring a slightly higher percentage of Philly’s goals than what Arango and Kara provided for LAFC and Orlando, respectively, Gazdag had teammates like Carranza (14 goals), Uhre (13), and Cory Burke (seven), and he had seven (!) goals from the penalty spot.

What the top teams have that Orlando doesn’t is goal-scoring depth — other guys who step up. And, with more players to worry about, it frees the top scorer up to…well, score. The 22-year-old Torres nearly got to double digits for Orlando City this year, but behind that the drop-off was significant. Urso scored five goals to finish third on the team, mainly by playing higher up the pitch at wing and by swapping spots with Pereyra. That’s still only one more goal than the four he provided as the late-arriving box-to-box midfielder last year. He should be a complementary piece of the offense like Alejandro Bedoya is in Philadelphia, not your team’s third-leading goal scorer.

Everyone loves Michel. He’s a Homegrown Player, a hometown kid who has come up big in some important moments for the club. He’s got a big smile, provides great energy for the team, and has an effervescent personality. Who doesn’t love a good Benji backflip or the way he uses props in his celebrations? But Michel scored a goal on opening day and then did not score again all season long in MLS play — despite appearing in almost every game (31 league appearances). It was a career low and has continued a downward trajectory in his career in terms of goals per 90 minutes.

Others who played striker this year include Tesho Akindele (three goals), Alexandre Pato (three), and a couple of late cameos by Jack Lynn (no goals).

Wing players Mulraney and Angulo combined for zero goals. The club’s DP No. 10, Pereyra, scored one time. The team’s starting fullbacks combined for four goals. Ruan and Moutinho also finished with just four combined assists — that’s 11 behind Philadelphia’s Kai Wagner alone. While there aren’t a lot of Kai Wagners out there, that is not a gap, it’s a gulf.

Soccer is a team sport. That’s never been in dispute. Yet fans still love to pile on the striker when the team has a struggling offense. Kara missed his opportunity on Sunday night in Montreal, it’s true. Kara did not miss Torres’ shot, or Carlos’, or Angulo’s. Kara did not ignore his own setups to run between the center backs. Kara did not serve poor crosses or passes into the area to himself or get those attempted key passes blocked. Kara did not build the attack behind him too slowly to take advantage of Montreal’s three-man back line. In short, yes, Kara could have given his team the lead in the first half of his first ever playoff match, but he doesn’t represent a primary reason Orlando City lost that game or the other 14 league matches the Lions dropped in 2022.

Is He the Right Fit?

It’s a fair question to ask if Kara is simply a good striker who doesn’t fit in with what Oscar Pareja wants to do with his attack. It’s possible, but Pareja has had some previous success with the similarly built Blas Perez in 2014 at FC Dallas, taking his team to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and only heartbreakingly going out in the Western Conference semifinals against Seattle because of the the away goals tiebreaker, which is no longer a thing. Perez, who scored 11 times that year for an FC Dallas side that finished fourth in the West with 55 goals, had no drop-off from 2013. His 11 goals equaled the MLS career high he had set under previous Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman in the first year after Pareja’s arrival.

So, this type of striker can work in Pareja’s system and Kara is probably much better (and certainly much younger) than Perez was then. One key difference between the 2022 Lions and that 2014 Dallas team is that Pareja had two other double-digit scorers in 2014 — Fabian Castillo and Michel Pereira — and Akindele chipped in eight more that year. Those four players alone combined to score 39 league goals, which is just five fewer than all of Orlando City’s roster had in 2022.

None of the above means I don’t think there are flaws to Kara as a player. Virtually every MLS player has some or they’d be playing in a higher-profile league. Kara hasn’t been a particularly effective defender in the press, although Orlando doesn’t press high that often anyway. His aerial play for his height could be better. And yes, his pace isn’t what Dike’s was, although I maintain that he’s fast enough to get the job done.

How about if — and just hear me out on this — we let Kara and Torres get a second year in the United States under their belts together, get Gaston Gonzalez’s knee healthy and let him cook on the opposite side of Torres, and add some complementary pieces who can be dynamic in the buildup, but also score goals themselves and maybe draw a few more penalties? And what if the club improved its goal-scoring depth at striker this off-season?

If those things happen, it’s almost a certainty that fewer fans will be pointing the finger at Kara and can instead go back to whining about their NFL team’s quarterback.


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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