Minnesota United FC just announced this week the hiring of Adrian Heath. Heath was sacked by Orlando City FC back in July, after having a rough start to the year’s campaign. Now that he’s the head coach of one of the league’s two latest expansion franchises, what is it going to be like for Heath to face his former club?
The Englishman, who played almost his entire career in England, had been the head coach of the Orlando City franchise ever since its inception. In fact, he has not had a coaching job in America that has not been with the franchise. The club first started in 2008 as the Austin Aztex, playing two seasons, 2009 and 2010, in the USL. The club finished 10th in its first season, and Heath was able to drastically improve upon that in the team’s second season, finishing second. Owner Phil Rawlins then moved the club to Orlando City.
Heath brought plenty of success to Orlando in the USL. In the four seasons the Lions were a part of the league, they finished in the top spot three times and were champions twice. Then, when the club was selected to be an MLS expansion franchise, no man was better for the job than him. He had wonderful success in the club’s inaugural MLS season, just barely missing out on the playoffs, which was quite impressive for a rookie team.
But 2016 did not quite live up to the previous season, as Heath and the team were unable to build upon a successful first season. The final two straws were the 2-1 loss in the U.S. Open Cup to NASL side Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and then the following match, a 4-0 defeat to FC Dallas. After being a part of the franchise for nearly eight years, the Englishman was sacked.
So what is it going to be like for the club to face him and for him to face the club? As previously mentioned, his only job in America has been the head coach of the Orlando City franchise. It will undoubtedly be very difficult for him. He had been the man in charge that helped turn a new USL club into a competitive MLS one. He brought success at each level and saw this franchise develop a sizable following and fan base.
It will be made even more difficult because of the fact that he was only given a season and a half to work with the MLS side. Yes, it was said that the decision to part ways with Heath was mutual. But regardless, think about it from Heath’s perspective. He had been through it all with the franchise, being there from day one. And then when the team got the chance to be an MLS franchise, he led it to moderate success in the first season.
And then, after a slow start to the second season, the club’s brass axed him. Yes, soccer in general is very vicious and quick when it comes to managers, but after spending six years with the club in the USL, it must have been difficult for him to hear he was being fired after only getting a year and a half in MLS. And his words indicate he felt his firing was unwarranted.
So, while he is trying to echo similar success in the inaugural season for Minnesota United FC, it will be definitely be difficult when it comes time to play against Orlando City. Heath, I can imagine, will definitely want to show what Orlando is missing out on.
On the other side, what will it be like for the club to face Heath? Well, this will be the franchise’s first full season without him at the helm. City did not improve at all after Heath’s firing in the midst of the 2016 season. Under Heath’s reign, the club went 4-4-8 in league play, racking up 20 points in 16 games. After his firing, the rest of the season, the club went 5-7-6, for 21 points in 18 games. Not any improvement, in fact, as the team’s points per game dropped.
If Heath shows success next season similar to Orlando City’s inaugural season, and the Florida side does not show any remarkable improvement, which for most of us means reaching the MLS playoffs, will fingers started to be pointed as to why Heath was let go? That might be raised exponentially if Minnesota comes away with three points against the Lions.
Since Minnesota will play in the Western Conference, Orlando will only play the newcomers once. If that will be home or away has yet to be determined as the schedule for 2017 has yet to be released. But, when it is released, I am sure Heath will be circling that match on his calendar, especially if Minnesota is traveling to Orlando.
Can you imagine if Heath were to take his Minnesota side and beat his former club at its newly built stadium? That would make Heath pretty happy and would look bad for Orlando. We wish all the best to Heath, except when he plays against the Lions.