The 2016 MLS season was a tough year for midfielder Harrison Heath. His head coach – who happened to be his dad – got fired, he got hurt just before the MLS Homegrown Game for the second straight year, and he didn’t get a sniff of the senior team after Jason Kreis took over at Orlando City.
The 20-year-old defensive midfielder from Newcastle-under-Lyme, England, competed mostly in the USL with Orlando City B, but he did manage to get three games (all starts) with the senior side in 2016, and dressed as a substitute for several other matches. However, he didn’t play an MLS match after spraining his knee on July 13 against the New York Red Bulls.
After getting three games in 2015, Heath figured to expand his role somewhat in 2016, but the addition of Antonio Nocerino knocked the Homegrown Player further down the depth chart. That, coupled with his knee injury, limited “H” to just 12 matches with OCB in addition to his three starts with the senior Lions. In USL play, he scored one goal on three shots, committed 13 fouls, and received five yellow cards while playing 951 minutes over 12 matches.
Heath started once for Orlando City while his father was still head coach, and saw two of his starts come after Adrian Heath was fired but before Kreis had taken over. He equaled his three MLS appearances of 2015 but set a new personal best for starts and minutes played (223) with the senior side. He did not contribute a goal, assist, or shot with Orlando City this season, while committing three fouls and receiving one yellow card.
He averaged 1.7 tackles per game, but just 0.3 interceptions, and he did not register any clearances. As a passer, Heath completed 78.4% of his attempts, averaging 0.3 key passes, one cross and four long balls per match.
Just days after Adrian Heath was fired, H started in Orlando City’s midfield against the Houston Dynamo on July 8 and turned in what was easily his best performance of the season, narrowly missing out on Man of the Match honors. He achieved a rating of 7.5 in our post-game player grades, just getting edged out by defensive midfield partner Cristian Higuita for player of the game. As I wrote back on that match day:
A very solid performance on what had to be an emotional night for H. He led all non-defenders in passing rate (88%), created a chance offensively, and made a few well-timed runs to try to get forward. He provided good coverage behind the attacking midfield and helped link the play in the middle of the pitch.
On that particular day, Heath showed glimpses of the player that his teammates rave about after practice. But he has been inconsistent in his MLS appearances, earning only a 4 on July 13 at the New York Red Bulls and a 6 on May 29 at New York City FC.
2016 Final Rating
It would be unfair to judge a player based on just three appearances, so The Mane Land gives H an incomplete grade for the 2016 season. Perhaps he could have earned more playing time if not for suffering an MCL sprain in mid-summer, but at only 20 years of age, Heath’s best still lies ahead of him.
As the son of the popular ex-coach, Heath’s presence on Orlando City may pose some awkwardness for Kreis, which might put his position with the team in jeopardy. However, his age, potential, Homegrown status, and low price tag ($63,000) make him worth keeping around and developing. Kreis might be well served to loan Heath out for the full season to Orlando City B in 2017 in hopes that he can both develop his skills and show he can stay healthy for an entire season. A potential formation change could make it difficult for Heath to see any playing time with the MLS side in 2017.
I expect Orlando City to hang onto Heath with an eye on stashing him in the USL next year. But at his age and with his potential, Heath could either become a valuable player for Orlando City in the not-too-distant future, or a potential trade asset to bring in a player in a position that requires more depth.