While visiting his family for Christmas in 2007, Phil Rawlins was accosted in a pub by a former Stoke City and Everton striker about coaching his fledgling lower division soccer team, the Austin Aztex. The man refused to leave Rawlins alone until he gave him an interview for the vacant position. Adrian Heath would remain with Rawlins for more than eight years, following him to Austin, TX, and then to Orlando, and MLS.
After arriving in Orlando in 2010 and launching the Orlando City Soccer Club, Heath saw a tremendous amount of success. His team won five trophies in four years in the USL, leading to the club shattering attendance records. His leadership and ability to effectively market the young third division team helped lift Orlando City to MLS. But that may not be the biggest impact on Heath’s legacy in Orlando.
When the club arrived in Orlando, one player who followed from Texas was Ian Fuller. He soon became the Lions’ player-coach in 2011, and would continue that role for three seasons before leaving the playing field to be Heath’s full-time assistant in 2014. Despite the club refusing to renew his contract following the 2015 season, Fuller would rejoin Heath when the coach became the first MLS boss for Minnesota United.
While Fuller became the first player under Heath in America to enter the coaching field, he wasn’t the first head man. With its entrance into MLS, Orlando City transferred its USL rights to Louisville, KY, to be owned by Orlando City minority owner Wayne Estopinal. The first coach for the new team would be Irish midfielder James O’Connor, who had joined Orlando City in 2012. Retiring during the Lions’ 2014 season to take over the role, Heath’s coaching tree gained its first branch.
On Oct. 15, 2015, Orlando City created its own USL team to serve as a reserve and development squad, bringing in a familiar face to coach. The son of a long-time English manager, Anthony Pulis has admitted that he always knew coaching was in his future, but it was under Heath that he got his shot. While coaching academy teams that year, Pulis worked with the first team during training to learn as much as he could from his former coach.
Pulis turned out to be an excellent decision for Orlando City B, helping to develop players that would go on to play for the first team, such as Mikey Ambrose, Tony Rocha, and Pierre Da Silva. His impressive display of coaching for OCB drew the attention of independent USL teams, leading to his recent hiring by Saint Louis FC, a better job for the young coach, as his role will now enable him to implement his own system and ideas rather than developing a team using the ideas of another coach.
O’Connor and Pulis may be the only current head coaches that played under Heath, but are far from the only players to coach. Yordany Alvarez, Lewis Neal, and Rob Valentino are currently coaching in the Orlando City academy, with the Valentino being Pulis’ assistant with OCB. It’s still unclear what the future of these three hold, but it could see head roles, especially when it comes to Valentino, given his experience under Pulis during the 2016 and 2017 USL seasons.
Heath provided Orlando City with an era of success that will always keep him in the hearts and minds of the Lions faithful, but his lasting legacy may be a coaching tree that is starting to grow. O’Connor has seen tremendous success with Louisville City, resulting in a USL championship in 2017, with many feeling he is bound for the next level. Pulis is following a similar path, looking to build a winning culture in St. Louis similar to what he experienced under Heath in Orlando. It may be a small tree with minimal branches right now, but Heath’s impact on American soccer coaching is beginning to show.