Over the past few weeks, Orlando City has been in a slump that has caused much concern for the team. A lot of the blame has fallen on Head Coach Adrian Heath for the team's recent results and many are questioning if Heath will remain coach of the Lions.
Dr. Keith Buckley, Head Coach of the Rollins men's soccer team, color commentator of the Orlando City games on radio 104.1 and co-host of the Orlando City Coach's Show, sat down with me on Thursday and shared his thoughts on the situation.
"With an expansion team, you're gonna have your highs and your lows and the easiest thing to do is to call for the coach's head," Buckley said. "But what difference is that going to make? Being around that team, Adrian is very well respected by the players and by other coaches and other organizations. All we would do is lose a major asset. Then we would be in a situation 'Well, who are we gonna get now that understands the players, the team, the city, and the organization?'"
Buckley is absolutely right with this. What many casual fans don't understand is that managing a soccer club isn't just about results, it's about the growth of the team and the development of young, unproven players. People keep forgetting this, but it bears repeating: this is an expansion team. It's the first year with a new core group of players that still need time to become top performers. Now, that's not to say Heath isn't expecting a lot from his team.
"Adrian will be the first to say that performances and results have to improve," Buckley said of his coaching friend. "The biggest thing that's hit the team has been significant injuries to Molino, Brek Shea, and Ramos was injured, and the unfortunate thing has also been the international call-ups. That's not an excuse. I think if people go watch them train, see the interaction of the players and what they're doing in training, they'd understand the development of the team."
It's easy for fans to call for Heath's job, judging only by games, but having not seen all the hard work and preparation that goes into training and pregame strategy, they really don't see the full picture. While the fans are mostly concerned about results, Heath's importance to the Orlando City organization is much deeper than just as a coach.
"Adrian Heath is by far the best choice for coach of Orlando City, and if he isn't, there's no one out there that's the obvious choice," Buckley said. "Sure, there's so-called 'bigger name coaches,' but they have no understanding of the league, no understanding of the salary cap and definitely no understanding of Orlando and Orlando City. "
Heath has been with the club since its inception in 2011, and has been a part of its growth both on and off the field every step of the way. The way that the club is put together, Heath's job off the field, being a part of the community and connecting with the people in Orlando, is just as important as the results on the field.
"It didn't just happen, it was pretty organic and it was pretty much because Adrian, the players and Phil Rawlins got themselves out in the community, and it started out pretty small," Buckley recalled, speaking of the team's arrival in 2011. "They developed a presence within the community. The big-time coach that comes in from the Premier League or La Liga, he's not gonna do that."
"He's not gonna go see an under-12 soccer clinic at Seminole and ask the kids how they're doing. What Adrian and Phil have done is embraced the city and got them to connect. I've been in soccer in this country for 25 years and always in Orlando. I never thought it was gonna happen. I was the naysayer and they've totally proved me wrong, and that's a good thing."
So, while this season may not be exactly what fans expected, just give it time. Adrian Heath's heart is with Orlando and he will make sure that this team never gives up.
FYI: If you want to listen to the full interview with Dr. Keith Buckley, listen here.