United appear set to replace one Geordie with another. Adrian Heath will become Minnesota United FC’s first manager in MLS.
Heath was uniquely qualified to become the inaugural boss of the Loon’s in the top division because he has been in precisely this position before: Heath led Orlando City FC into the league for their maiden campaign in 2015.
Like current/former manager Carl Craig, Adrian Heath is from Newcastle, a blue-collar mining city in the North-East of England. Also like Craig, Heath decided to come across the pond to cut his teeth in the American lower divisions. However, Heath found more success in the USL than his counterpart did in the NASL.
Heath signed on the manage the Austin Aztex in 2008, with the team moving to Orlando in 2010. With the rebranded Orlando City FC, Heath began to dominate the USL Pro. OCFC won the USL Championship twice in their four years in the league, as well as three Commissioner’s Cups (the USL equivalent of the Supporter’s Shield, awarded for the best regular season record).
Thanks to their sensational record in USL and the local interest in the club, the ownership group announced in 2013 that their MLS expansion bid had been accepted. OCFC would enter MLS in 2015 and the club decided to stick with the guy who got them there.
Despite some exciting matches, Orlando City would finish in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, five points short of the final playoff spot. Heath would then be fired midway through his second season in Orlando after recording a 26-21-31 record over 78 games in MLS, giving him a 33.3% winning percentage.
Before crossing the Atlantic, Adrian Heath had a distinguished career in England as a player. Nicknamed “Inchy” because of his diminutive stature (Heath stands only 5’6”), he played as a midfielder for 7 clubs across his 18-year career, including Manchester City, Aston Villa, Espanyol, and a five-season stint at Everton which yielded 71 goals.
When his playing days ended, Heath manned several managerial posts in England as a short-term or caretaker option before he would be convinced by Austin Aztex owner Phil Rawlins to try his luck in America.
While he brings a wealth of knowledge as a player as well has having the experience of having lead another expansion side, I believe there are other reasons why Heath is well qualified to be United’s first manager in MLS.
When the team moved from Austin to Orlando, the club needed to reach out to a new community and build a new fan base almost from scratch. Heath embraced this challenge and did everything he could to build relationships in his new home. The manager was a regular on local radio stations and would stop on the street to chat with fans who wanted to talk about the team.
His “man of the people” approach will serve him well in the Minnesota sports market, where we like our coaches to be approachable.
It is also worthwhile to note that even though they were an expansion club, Heath still focused on trying to play an attractive brand of soccer. His OCFC teams would frequently employ a 4-3-3 formation, with his wingers cutting in to join the attack. Fullbacks would be asked to overlap to provide an additional option. The only two players United have currently signed to the roster, Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas, are both attacking fullbacks with the pace to get to the end line and swing in a cross. They seem to be tailor made to an Adrian Heath squad.
The way Heath nurtured Cyle Larin’s talent and got 17 goals from a rookie also bears note. Could he do the same with a promising young player like former Duke striker Jeremy Ebobisse? It is tantalizing to think about what Heath would do with another first-overall pick.
Adrian Heath may not have been the most glamorous of the managerial options available; he certainly won’t turn heads internationally like the appointment of Tata Martino at Atlanta United has done. But Heath is, at the very least, a known quantity. He’s done this before, so there won’t be much that surprises him. He won’t have to adjust to a new league--just a new climate (Buy a snow scraper, Adrian). So, while he may not be the most exciting name on everyone’s lists, Adrian Heath was definitely the safest option for our entry in to MLS. Do you like the club’s choice? Wanted someone else to get the job? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think.