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What I’ve Learned These Past Four Weeks at The Mane Land

My first month here is up, and here is what I think I know.

MLS: Sporting KC at Orlando City SC
Nocerino expressing my current feelz
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I can tell you one thing for sure, Mane Landers: I thought I knew what I think I know a month ago. I was in my little bubble, happy as a little clam, hanging out with like-minded folks, coaching from afar, running through my game day rituals of black socks, cargo camo dad shorts, my #tuugether Antonio Nocerino purple shirt, my purple and gold Orlando Facial Hair Club hat (because I have to bring the #beardluck), and having to swing by a certain establishment before the match for a very specific beer.

I was keeping the trolls at bay as best I could in the Facebook page I help to admin, and tried to spark and foster meaningful conversation about players, coaches, formations, and every other aspect of what could help to save our club’s season and see the Lions into the playoffs for the first time in their brief MLS history. And then I was given the awesome chance to write what was on my mind for all of you, and everything I thought I knew went right out the window, baby, bathwater, and all.

Offense Just Needs Better Service

Well, I will be honest, this is what I thought. I figured the pieces were there, and those pieces just needed better service from the midfield behind them. The addition of Dom Dwyer was just going to add an experienced and veteran striker to Orlando’s attack, allowing Carlos Rivas to drop back and be able to run a little freer knowing he now has two solid scorers in the box...well, although I think we can all agree about needs in the midfield, discussed momentarily, City’s ability to score needed much more than just better service.

There were some glimmers of hope in the past few matches this month, as I wrote about previously, but none of that came from better service necessarily. The team’s target striker needed a solid “kick in the pants” so to speak, and Dom certainly has done his part to help a struggling offense. Orlando City is one of the worst teams in goal differential this season, but I can see that changing moving forward.

The Midfield Just Needs Consistency

Again, this is what I thought for most of the season, a fallacy that became apparent about four weeks ago. I am the first to admit, I am an Antonio Nocerino fanboy.

A group from the Orlando Facial Hair Club, including this Bearded Guy, spreading some #beardluck with Noce

Now that I have off my chest, let’s discuss the midfield. I mean, the Lions have a midfield, but no creativity. Sure, there is Kaká, the last player to win the Ballon d’Or who is not named Ronaldo or Messi, but everyone can see — once the blinders are removed — that he is in the twilight of his career.

I work in a very data-driven field, and data doesn’t lie. The fact is Orlando City’s record is better when he does not start than when he does, and that is going to need to be fixed this off-season. Giles Barnes shows moments, Dillon Powers looks like a solid depth player, Rivas is Rivas (but not worth anything near a DP slot) and has shown moments of absolute brilliance if he could just fix his shooting foot, and Yoshi was an absolutely stellar pickup by the team.

Orlando seems pretty stacked at defensive mid, and I certainly hope that Noce makes a strong case for his roster spot, but with Cristian Higuita and Servando Carrasco there as well, I am beginning to think his salary may not be justified (and believe me, it kills me to say that because just his attitude on the pitch can light a fire under players that spreads fast). It is a midfield that needs work, especially if the team is going to stick to a 4-4-2 diamond (I would hope that someone read my article on other formations to try that I think would work better).

One Solid CB is All the Team Needs

I thought the addition of Jonathan Spector was all that was needed to turn a porous defense into one to be reckoned with. Again, this is what i thought.

Specs was another fantastic addition to the squad, as was Scott Sutter. I think PC, with some time, will become a solid left back and will be in a great competition with Donny Toia for the starting spot. And this is where everything gets real murky. Tommy Redding needs time folks, but he could become a great CB. As for the rest, I am so utterly confused by who is where and when and how and is he healthy and who has card problems and who was last red carded that I can’t even really keep up. I have learned to just take the starting back four as given every game day and roll with it.

Joe Will Be Joe

I mean, need I say more? This is the one thing I knew four weeks ago that I still know now, we have a solid keeper in Joe Bendik.

Jason Kreis is Good by Me

Four weeks ago, I was yelling at people to stop with the #KreisOut nonsense. After these four weeks, I don’ know where I stand anymore. His formations, his personnel choices, his calm demeanor at all times have left me in a dark closet, listening to The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now,” wondering what it all means.

The Mane Land Writers

I knew one writer here coming into this and had not really formed opinions on other writers I found myself constantly reading content from. After four weeks, I can honestly say it is a great group of folks, with varying takes on the game and the team, that has helped me look at this club I love so much and see it from different angles, watch from different perspectives, and go into this knowing that I should not only be ready for criticism and critique on what I say, but should be able to do that to myself as well.

It has been a roller coaster four weeks, and all I can say is I am looking forward to many many more weeks bringing all you Mane Landers content and perspective from this bearded guy’s view. Hopefully, you all start to reach out to me to share your perspectives as well. And if you see me out and about, do not hesitate to say hello. Let’s get a beer and discuss soccer, beards, or music, because that is what I am looking forward to doing here at The Mane Land. Thanks everyone!