Midfielder Harrison Heath wasn't supposed to play with the first team this season. The Lions started the season with Darwin Ceren, Amobi Okugo and Cristian Higuita, and had to feel pretty good about the defensive midfield, with guys like Lewis Neal and Eric Avila capable of stepping into those roles if needed.
But this season saw so many strange turns of events that you almost have to laugh to keep from crying when you think of the rash of key injuries, combined with games lost to suspension and international duty, which especially ravaged the midfield. Injuries to attacking players kept Neal and Avila from being able to drop back when knocks and other absences hit the defensive midfield. That pushed "H" into the 18 fairly often and into the starting lineup on three occasions.
The Homegrown Player son of Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath, H started two games in his three MLS appearances and also saw the field in friendlies. It was a friendly, in fact, that derailed his season, when he dislocated his knee against West Bromwich Albion.
At just 19 years old, Heath started his first MLS match at D.C. United back on May 13 and played 90 minutes, registering a shot. He didn't necessarily do much wrong, but Heath wasn't able to break up play much in the midfield and most of his passes were to the outside or backward. This may have been an intentional strategy to keep him from making a critical mistake, but it hindered the team moving forward, giving D.C. a slight possession advantage and limiting the Lions to seven shots.
At least he showed some fire in the match, refusing to be intimidated by the bullying of Davy Arnaud.
Heath played 136 minutes in his three appearances, without registering a goal, assist or shot on goal. He managed one shot against United and did a nice job of eliminating mistakes, committing only one foul, while drawing two from opponents. This might speak to a lack of aggressiveness or simply caution on his part.
His passing accuracy in the road start at D.C. was 90.6% and overall he was at 91.3% for the season, which is impressive if you don't consider that he always made the safe back or side pass and rarely sent the ball forward into dangerous areas. He made 53 passes but no key passes in the game, with one interception, one clearance and one tackle. Only 19 of his passes came beyond midfield. He was accurate on four of his six long balls, however.
He also played a minute off the bench against D.C. on June 14 and the first 45 minutes of the FC Dallas match on July 11. In U.S. Open Cup play, Heath went the full 130 minutes at Charleston and scored in the penalty shootout, which the Lions won, 8-7. H also got four minutes off the bench in the June 30 2-0 win that knocked the Columbus Crew out of the competition.
Harrison's best game comes down to his first start at D.C. United or the road USOC match at Charleston. He looked more comfortable going forward against the Battery and contributed on the score sheet in the penalty shootout, but it was a soft game for Orlando's back line and defensive midfield, allowing four goals to a USL side. The game at United saw him play a much more safety-first style which helped the defense but hindered the team moving forward. I'm calling it a tossup between those two matches.
Heath will benefit from the club's addition of the Orlando City B squad in 2016. It will allow him to get games and remain sharp, while developing his skills under the tutelage of his father, the MLS coaching staff and the OCB coaches as well.
As a player, Heath was simply not ready to play MLS matches this season and that's not his fault. After all, he's only 19. Before the season, Harrison was a guest on The Mane Land PawedCast, where he mentioned that he'd prefer to play games with Louisville City FC than not make the 18 in Orlando. The Lions didn't have that luxury with the way the team was depleted all season. That shouldn't be the case in 2016 and both H and Orlando City B will benefit.
Final 2015 Rating
With only three appearances this season in MLS and two others in U.S. Open Cup competition, The Mane Land staff gives Heath a grade of incomplete. If pressed, our composite score would be a 4 out of 10 -- not through any fault of his. When he played, he did his job, went with a safety-first attitude, and didn't make many glaring mistakes.
He's simply not yet ready for this level of competition. He will benefit in the future by playing more relaxed and confidently, enabling him to be more aggressive on defense and with trying to pick out passes to move the team forward.
If players like Kaká and Brek Shea are to be believed, H has tremendous upside and another year or two of development could see him become a fixture in Orlando City's defensive midfield.
What did you think of Heath's performances in 2015?