I was thrilled when Minnesota United announced in late November that Adrian Heath would be the manager to bring the Loons into MLS. Why, you ask? It dates back to the days when I was just beginning to follow soccer--the 2015 MLS season. That was the year Heath entered the league with expansion club Orlando City SC. I had to have an MLS club to follow for the two years before Minnesota United began MLS play, so I chose the Lions. I listened to interviews with Adrian Heath and remember thinking, “He really knows his stuff and he seems like a nice guy too”. Of course, I wasn’t following Orlando City avidly, but rather just checking results and watching them when they were on national television. Nonetheless, I had picked up a favorite manager. I was surprised and saddened when Adrian Heath was let go by Orlando midway through last season. There was justification for his release, but it is always disappointing to see a manger let go in the beginning stages of a project.
Any semblance of despair vanished once Heath became associated with Minnesota. I listened in on his first radio interview and was expectedly impressed with his demeanor. I’d like to say I never wavered in support of him, but as the offseason began to ramp up into the preseason, he had me a little frustrated. His scouting trips to different parts of the planet weren’t turning into much and I (along with the rest of #PANIC) had my doubts over whether there would be eleven players to start on opening day. Thankfully, that never became a reality.
Fast forward to the week before the first home match against Atlanta United. I hate to bring up painful memories, but you’ll remember that there was much doubt and discomfort after the 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Portland Timbers. I attended Adrian Heath’s press conference a couple of days before the home opener. I was fully expecting our manager to give canned responses about how there’s a “transition period” or that it would just “take time”. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to hear answers about how the team could perform at an acceptable level. Heath carries himself in a jovial, almost boyish way, but it is easy to tell when he means business.
I’ll resurrect a painful memory one more time with the mention of the 6-1 defeat to fellow expansion club Atlanta United. It was ugly, abysmal, and embarrassing (to pick just a few adjectives). Heath’s response to that match was yet another example of how he impresses me. A bit of a shake-up became apparent in the next match (the 2-2 draw in Colorado). Captain Vadim Demidov was benched in favor of NASL carryover Brent Kallman and Ibson was also brought along for the ride. The result spoke for itself, but Heath’s willingness to make difficult decisions for the betterment of the team said even more.
Vadim Demidov has since fallen out of favor at Minnesota United and will likely be sold soon. Some (and perhaps most) gaffers would hold on to figures like Demidov, but not Heath. He saw a clear weakness (the Norwegian centerback’s inability to competently play defense) and quickly brought in a better choice. Speaking of Heath bringing in defenders, let’s discuss the acquisition of Jérôme Thiesson. The Swiss fullback was acquired in February but brought in days before the Atlanta match. Again, Heath spotted a weakness (this time in advance) and brought in a solution. Thiesson has become a key part of the team. Just a few weeks ago, Minnesota United traded for two additional defensive-minded players to anchor the defense. Looking at the back four from opening day and the back four from Sunday, the only crossover is (new) captain Francisco Calvo.
It’s not just in defense that Adrian Heath has been open to change. He has experimented with Bashkim Kadrii, Miguel Ibarra, Rasmus Schuller, and (the now traded) Mohammed Saeid on the left wing. Ibson, Collen Warner, Schuller, acquisition Sam Cronin, and Saeid have all played in central midfield. When Adrian Heath sees something he doesn’t like, he promptly fixes it.
One of the most important things, perhaps even the most important thing, that Minnesota United is doing is promoting the game of soccer. New fans are flocking to the game. Consider a conversation I had a couple of days ago with my father, a new fan, who had listened to one of Adrian Heath’s interviews on the radio. He was impressed by how much of a “good guy” Heath seemed to be. My father learned a lot from the coach’s comments and was able to quickly explain and discuss the logic behind Minnesota’s 4-2-3-1 formation. A manager who can appeal to both the loyal supporter and casual fan is certainly a good one.
Whether it’s giving thoughtful answers to reporters, making tough coaching decisions, or enlightening fans in interviews, Adrian Heath has done nothing but impress me in his time at the helm of Minnesota United. His leadership has turned the team around of late, and I fully believe that our manager has become an invaluable part of our club.