"Inchy, the mastermind and the crafter, bringing trophies here to our town!" The chant from the Orlando City supporters group echoed throughout the stadium every home game. Now, it will be sung in memory of the now former Orlando City manager, Adrian Heath.
Before Heath started with the club all the way back in 2008, when it was in Austin, Inchy had a long tenured career as a player and coach in England, which you can read more about here. After spending 2008 to 2010 in Texas, Heath moved with the team to Orlando in 2011. As soon as Orlando City became a club, Adrian Heath was the man in charge and for the first four years of its existence, it was the best team around.
Orlando City spent four years in the USL and made the playoffs every year. In terms of team accolades, here are just a few:
- Two USL championships.
- Three regular-season USL championships.
- A 6-2 overall playoff record.
- 12 players named to the All-League First Team.
- The best start of any professional U.S. soccer club in its first 100 league matches, with a 66-12-22 record.
- A 45-5-10 record at home, including two undefeated regular seasons at the Citrus Bowl.
What was most important to Heath were the players he coached and how he developed them. He helped develop Kevin Molino into a two-time USL MVP and one-time holder of the league's regular-season goal-scoring record. He helped turn Dom Dwyer from a young player sitting on the bench in Kansas City into a goal-scoring machine when he was loaned to Orlando in 2013. Dwyer still thanks Heath for all that he did for his career, at one point saying to the Orlando Sentinel, "I honestly can't speak highly enough for the respect I have for him and what he taught me in such a short period of time...He knew the right buttons to push for me and he pushed them hard and it's obviously paid off."
Heath helped turn players who were cast off from MLS teams -- like Jamie Watson, Rob Valentino, Matt Luzunaris and others -- into successful professionals who constantly contributed to the many wins the club earned over the years.
Those four years in USL helped capture the hearts of the community and made him a stalwart within Orlando. While fans chanted his name and praised his coaching, he did his best to give back to the community. Not only did he take time to speak with fans before different events, he would volunteer his time and services to help his community, he would go to soccer clinics and help the kids in any way he could. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Because he cared for Orlando and its future soccer players.
Rollins College Head Coach Keith Buckley said of Heath in an interview last year that, "What Adrian and Phil (Rawlins) have done is embraced the city and got them to connect. I've been in soccer in this country for 26 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."
Perhaps one of Heath's biggest accomplishments was helping get Orlando City into MLS. With his club winning games and playing a fun style of soccer, the league began to take notice when inquiries were made about the move. The 20,000-plus crowd on hand for the 2013 USL Championship game was one of the biggest in minor league soccer at the time and really got the league office taking note. After the team landed a stadium deal, Orlando City was announced as Major League Soccer's 21st franchise.
Heath made the step up to MLS in 2015 with the team and came a few points away from making the playoffs, in an inaugural season that saw many ups and downs, which was to be expected. That year also saw a complete overhaul of the Orlando roster, which included the end of the tenure of many longtime Lions. The plan for the team in MLS was to build a young roster and help them develop. The plan was laid out by Heath himself, along with then-GM Paul McDonough. With the plan, time was required to help push it to the eventual goal.
Unfortunately, time wasn't a luxury that Heath had going into the 2016 season. Pressure was mounting for his job and he was forced to put his strategy by the wayside in order for him to keep his job secure. Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way it was planned and patience ran thin with the club's board of directors, which led to his dismissal.
After the news come out from the club, former players took to social media last night and expressed their thoughts on the "mutual termination".
Adrian Heath played a massive role in my career & he's a coach I consider to be one of the best in America. Whoever gets him will be lucky.— Jamie Watson (@jamiewatson77) July 7, 2016
Lost for words https://t.co/iFO7G6LJCE— Dom Dwyer (@Ddwyer14) July 7, 2016
Adrian will always be a legend for Orlando city. He built it. What a coach and guy! Good guys land on their feet & he certainly will! #ledg— Brad Rusin (@BradfordRusin) July 7, 2016
While, in the end, people may look at the firing and chalk it up to another coach being let go for not getting results, the lasting legacy that Adrian Heath had on this community will be ingrained in the Lions' history. In fact, Jared Ambrose, the co-founder of the Iron Lion Firm, had some poignant words on Heath in an interview we did with him back in February of 2015, just before the start of the Lions' first MLS season.
While the club will move on and find another manager for the future of the Lions, none of them will truly replace Adrian Heath, the mastermind and crafter of Orlando City.