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State of The Mane Land: A Look Back at 2016 and Ahead to 2017

As we embark on a new year, it’s worthwhile looking back at a tumultuous 2016, when we had more teams than ever to cover.

MLS: SuperDraft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we’ve made it through another year. We’ve now spent more than two full years at SB Nation, having joined the network just a few months after posting our first story as a small-time free Wordpress site in September of 2014. A lot has happened in 2016 and much of it tested even my ever-enthusiastic resolve when it comes to The Mane Land.

As the 2016 MLS season cruised from spring to summer and then into fall, we lost an extraordinary amount of writing talent, and several contributors who had been with us almost since our humble beginnings. Bloggers often come and go. Some last longer than others. It’s all in the game, as Omar Little might have said, but the staff turnover in 2016 definitely affected us but we fought through it.

We’ve had staff members who decided that #BlogLyfe wasn’t for them in less than a month, and others who simply had their real-life situations — jobs, kids, marriage — change the prioritization of their free time, leaving little to no time for blogging.

Jeff Milby had been with us since those Wordpress days, having started as our Louisville City affiliate correspondent. Along the way, Jeff developed a real knack for writing outstanding (and funny) MLS power rankings pieces that were a staple of our summer coverage. Andrew Harrison and Wade Williams — both of whom joined us shortly after the jump to SB Nation — also left us this year. Andrew was my PawedCast co-host and Wade had a unique gift for snark that paired nicely with his support of Orlando City. All three hung up their keyboards this year.

Brent Petkus was a great help with live coverage when other writers’ schedules got in the way and he provided excellent tactical analysis pieces with his background as a Division I goalkeeper. Life and work got a bit busier for him this year and forced him into blog retirement (for now, anyway). He’ll be missed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Daniel Byrd, Daniel McGann, Allen Etzler, Kyle Foley, Robert Vega, Brad Newton, Luis Hernandez, and Lindsay Harrison for their contributions in 2016 before they moved on from TML.

The loss of so many instrumental staffers definitely stretched us this year. That would have been the case even if we simply had an MLS club to cover. But this year we had a USL reserve side and an NWSL team as well. At one point we went from three dedicated Pride writers to just one — and she was out of town on a two-month summer job with no internet. Circumstances definitely put the squeeze on us in 2016.

I want to thank those dedicated individuals that soldiered on through the endless summer of 2016 and saw us through a season filled with staff changes. Sean Rollins was a superstar this year with the thankless task of covering Orlando City B. Sean suffered through more lightning delays than any human should have to in 2016. He also was subject to the elements with no cover from the rain or relief from the heat and humidity, as Titan Soccer Complex’s small press box was not available, and yet he not only live tweeted OCB games, but also brought our readers timely, detailed recaps of the USL side.

Gavin Ewbank and Austin David are two guys I probably yelled at more in 2016 than any human that wasn’t my offspring (OK, “yelled” isn’t the right word, since it was text on the internet, but still...). They probably suffered through the worst of my frustrations but not because they weren’t helpful — on the contrary, they were vital to our coverage of all three teams. They caught the brunt of my stress-induced tirades because they were the guys who were around, helping out when no one else could. For the second straight year, Gavin even covered an away game at New York City FC, and in 2016 he added D.C. United to his travels. Where will he go in 2017? Columbus? Seattle? Montreal?

I have to give a shout out to Scott Crumbly, who helped me pick up the slack when we lost editor Rich Shock early in the MLS season. It took a while, but we’ve added Marcus Mitchell and Bryan Nelson, a couple of up-and-coming new editors who are probably already sick of direct messages from me pointing out things they missed, but they’ll both end up the better for it, if they can put up with me long enough.

Photographer Nick Leyva spent another season enduring rain, heat, humidity, and Carlos Rivas’ long-range shots to bring you images of not only the Lions, but the Pride as well. Austin Warren and new photographer Carlos Romero helped out when Nick couldn’t make it. Matt Starkey came and went as our primary OCB photographer during 2016 and we missed him after he went off to college in Ohio.

David Rohe spent his first full season with us in 2016, after joining in June of 2015. He continues to put together amazing ideas for your tailgate/watch parties in his Pride Pub series and if there’s one guy on the staff you should have a beer with, it’s Dave. He’ll know what to order and he has probably met half the brew masters in the state. He’s recently become the new PawedCast co-host and I’m enjoying what he brings to the table.

Meg VanDyk, who joined in November of 2015, is a college student, and has come and gone at various times, but I’m appreciative of her knowledge of the women’s game and wish I had her in Orlando more to cover the Pride live. We’re happy she’s still around to help provide coverage of women’s soccer. Logan Oliver joined us as the season was just getting underway and did a great job throughout the year. He’s too busy to hang out with us in our Slack channel, but I’ve never had to worry about him turning in his work on time and he leaves very little for the editors to do with his copy.

I’d like to welcome all of our new writers, most of whom have been with us less than two months: Guilherme Torres, Adam Dupere, John Adair, Michael Niemeier, Scott Carnevale, and Tommy Leinenweber. All of them will soon be going through their first MLS season with us and I’m looking forward to them having actual Orlando City soccer to write about.

I’d like to publicly recognize Tiffani Hubbert, who joined us in June, and makes my life easier by helping out with social media, particularly Facebook. In a perfect world, I’d have two more of her. Another behind-the-scenes staffer, Jorge Gallardo, only joined us recently, but he’s been doing graphic work for the site and our social media outlets.

That’s a lot of comings and goings in 2016 and it remains to be seen how everyone will fit into the schedule in 2017. I’m sure we can use more help covering OCB — especially now that the young Lions aren’t near Sean in Melbourne anymore — and the Pride. There’s always room for more hands on deck (click here to find out how to join our team) at The Mane Land. This is especially true right now, as the majority of our staff writers actually live outside of Central Florida.

I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish in 2016, often under extremely trying circumstances in terms of staff availability. We were at most of the (expanded) 2016 Florida Cup matches, covered all the Orlando-based Copa America Centenario games, and had a presence at all three of the club’s teams’ home contests (and a few road games, including the U.S. Open Cup game in Jacksonville). From a second 60,000+ opening day, to the exhilarating win over Portland, to the Pride’s home opener, to the emotional match after the Pulse shootings, to closing Camping World Stadium with a win, it was an eventful 2016.

In closing, I’d like to thank every one of our readers, especially those hearty few who take the time to leave us feedback in the comments section. We appreciate your time. It’s you who make us one of SB Nation’s most read MLS sites and we continue to be humbled every time you choose to spend time on our site. Please continue to provide feedback in the comments section at the bottom of our stories.

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I apologize. Blame it on old guy brain.

Thanks for a great (but hectic) 2016. Bring on 2017!

Michael Citro
Managing Editor