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State of The Mane Land: A Look Back at 2020 and Ahead to 2021

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As the calendar turns to 2021, let’s take a last look at the worst year ever (but a pretty good year on the pitch!).

New York City FC v Orlando City SC: Round One - MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

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.

Michael Citro
Managing Editor