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A Conversation with Former Orlando City Midfielder Jamie Watson

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Our podcast audio turned out to be garbage this week, but we saved you a great interview in print form.

Columbus Crew v Orlando City Soccer Club - Disney Pro Soccer Classic Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Sometimes technology really pisses me off. After checking our settings religiously each week so that we don’t have another recording issue with The Mane Land PawedCast like we had back in June, we recorded what probably was one of our best ever shows this week. Former Lion Jamie Watson — now a broadcaster with Minnesota United’s crew — was gracious enough to come on as our guest and we were unusually succinct and less babbly than we usually are in our other segments. So, of course, you’ll never hear that audio.

Unfortunately, something glitched and my audio output settings reset and so we recorded a podcast in which you can hear me just fine, but everyone else is limited to barely more than a murmur. Since I’m not a fancy audio technician, I spent about 20 minutes trying different things to fix the audio before giving up. I could hear what was being said, but there was a lot of noise if I boosted the volume of my co-host and our guest.

I didn’t want to go to jail for assaulting your ears with that kind of noise, so I decided that we’d sacrifice all the great things Dave and I said on the podcast and preserve our conversation with Jamie in text form, so you can at least read what he said, even if you can’t hear his voice.

Because Jamie played for Orlando City (under Adrian Heath) and now works alongside Inchy in Minnesota (the team Orlando plays this Saturday), we wanted to make sure we got him on the show. Here’s how our conversation went:

Michael Citro: You have a history with both clubs and with Adrian Heath. I recently wrote a 2,000-word piece on Heath and how he was given only a year and a half in Orlando and I wanted to get your take on Adrian as a coach, as you’ve played for him and watched him in Minnesota from the sidelines. What is it about him as a coach that led to the Minnesota front office being patient through two tough years to allow him the time to be successful this season?

Jamie Watson: Well, first of all, I read that article and I thought you did a tremendous job with it, kind of illustrating how the whole thing started, how it kind of quickly changed the culture, how just here and there a few bad calls before there was video review really changed the complexion of the beginning of that 2016 season and ultimately how it led to Adrian Heath being let go. So I thought you did a fair account of it.

When I look at it I see the difference of the two (situations). You posed the question in the article, I believe, was it too soon (for Orlando to fire Heath)? Was it too quick? And I think the answer was a resounding yes. If you want to talk about too quick, look at FC Cincinnati with Alan Koch. I mean, there was even less of a plan there. So, I mean they quickly just jumped ship and just said, “all right, let’s just call it quits here,” after only like 12 games. But for Orlando City I think that Adrian Heath had done everything you could possibly imagine to buy good faith, and I think that was taken from him before he had a chance to implement what he wanted to achieve there.

And, it wasn’t that he didn’t have the background or the proof in the pudding or the proof of concept that what he would do would work. He did. He just wasn’t given that opportunity.

So I think the biggest thing when he came here to Minnesota was he wanted to make sure that there was an understanding with our owner and our ownership group, led by Dr. Bill McGuire, that there was a message that there was a plan. And at the end of three years, ‘if you don’t like where we are, and if you don’t see that this is going to get us where we want to be or where the club thinks we should be, then by all means let me go. Fire me after the three years.’

And so, the first year, getting 10 wins…Adrian half-jokingly, half-seriously said getting 10 wins with that first group in Major League Soccer was one of his greatest coaching achievements. And I think he’s right, because it was so much of a rush. It was December when he was hired and there was not one player signed to the team. The season was going to kick off March 3, I believe, so he had all of four months later with which to field a team to compete in Major League Soccer. An expansion team is very rarely going to jump in and have success unless you have an 18- to 24-month buildup and an owner who’s going to spend money like crazy, and you’re not on the hook to build a stadium right away.

So, the owner was patient and believed in what Adrian Heath wanted to do and wanted to achieve, and incrementally they got better and now you see Minnesota United getting ready to play in a Cup final against Atlanta. I mean, it’s something special but it just takes patience and a lot of times in sports you don’t get that patience.

Dave Rohe: What were the key factors going from Year 2 to Year 3 that made this success possible?

JW: I mean, they struck gold on all of their signings this off-season and then they struck even more gold with the draft. You look at the roster…Ike Opara…Ozzy Alonso…Jan Gregus, and then Romaine Metanire, who in my opinion has been the best outside back in the entirety of Major League Soccer, and then the draft. You’ve got Chase Gasper, who’s starting week in and week out at left back; Hassani Dotson, who for my money is Rookie of the Year this year; and Dayne St. Clair, who has done so well that he’s now the No. 2. Bobby Shuttleworth has gone to Sacramento Republic to get games and (St. Clair) looks to be the goalkeeper of the future for the club and possibly for the Canada men’s national team.

And that’s not even including this window, when they’ve just gone and signed a Young Designated Player, an 18-year-old out of Uruguay, a left back for competition…and they got a Finnish TAM player, Robin Lod.

You know, Orlando City had a big overhaul, but I don’t think all those guys have lived up to the expectations. By all accounts, I thought Orlando City was going to be incredible this season. I really did. I said this would be the season that they would make the playoffs, that they’d make a run. But man, it just hasn’t worked, has it?

Michael: Kevin Molino has had some knee injury issues in recent years. What’s going on with Kevin, how far along into his return to form is he, and what is he going to present to us should he be selected to play this weekend?

JW: Kevin Molino is getting back to where he was before he tore his ACL in Orlando. He was able to complete his comeback, make the Trinidad Gold Cup roster — which was a huge milestone achievement for him at the beginning of the summer. Unfortunately he tore it in Orlando, ironically, of all places in that second or third match of the season last year. It was heartbreaking for Kevin, especially to do it a second time.

I’ve done it once before, the ACL tear, and it’s a brutal, incremental, long, slow grind to get back. Because to get back in four weeks or six weeks — that’s easy to stay motivated. But not when the first task you want to do is just to lift your leg again. That’s how slow of a crawl it is. So, for Kevin Molino to be able to do that twice — you almost have the game taken away from you twice, and not by any of your own undoing, simply the fact that this massive injury happened.

So I think Kevin’s passion for the game has never been higher than it is. It’s been restored to a level in which his body is catching up to where his mind and his heart is and he looks really sharp. And I think you guys are going to be able to see the Kevin Molino that you knew and loved and that grew before your eyes in Orlando from the USL to MLS. He looks really good and I can imagine he’ll probably play some part in the match-up. Kevin Molino is looking to go strength to strength and I know him and Adrian Heath will certainly be motivated for Saturday night.

Dave: What has it been like for you to make the transition from player to reporter? How are you liking the new gig?

JW: I appreciate that question. It’s great. It’s honestly the next best thing to playing. I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be. It’s not just like showing up and getting in front of a microphone and the next thing, you’re great at your job. I mean, you can ask Miguel Gallardo this. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of preparation that goes on.

Just kind of the quick story of it: Each week you go play a game, you’ve to learn roughly 28 guys on a roster. Instantly 10 of those guys won’t matter because only 18 guys can make a game day roster. And then potentially only three of those seven (bench) guys could get into a game as part of the 11. So, at most you’re going to use half of the players’ information that you spent studying on and learning their life story. So, if a player scores in the game and he starts crying in the corner, you realize, ‘oh it’s Kevin Molino off the back of a second ACL tear and this is why it means something.’ For every one player that you learn all that information on, there’s another player that you learn that information on that gets pushed right outside of your brain. So, it’s really fun and I get a lot of enjoyment being with the club where I finished my career. I get a chance to see a lot of people around the team that I used to play against.

Working with Adrian Heath, he’s been fantastic. I don’t know if this story’s been told a lot or not, but Adrian Heath had the utmost respect for me when he let me go from the club. And I do think that Adrian Heath did everything he could not to let me go before the club went into the season going into Major League Soccer. But I also understood that I wasn’t the hill that he was going to die on. ‘It’s me or Jamie.’ He was outnumbered by the people who were brought in to make those decisions. So, he really looked out for me as I made the transition to Minnesota and then he joined on here and same with Ian Fuller and those guys, were really great with me and they did everything they could to help me out. I mean, it’s not very often a boss fires you and you still like him afterwards. So, that’s how much respect with which he handled the situation and I always appreciated that. And I think that’s one thing most players here would say about Adrian — that he respects them as people. Because he gets the most out of his people.

But, ultimately, at the end of the day, he is the coach and he’ll do what’s best for the club. And that means making some tough decisions on fan favorites sometimes. I was fortunate to be a part of a great group in the USL before the change to Major League Soccer. I desperately want Orlando City — and I think James O’Connor can do that — I want club to get back to who they were. That’s the reason everybody fell in love with the club. That’s why they sold out every game (in 2017).

Everybody in Orlando could see what this club was and I feel like the trajectory has changed a little bit. But I want it to get back to somewhat of the course it was on, because a lot of people put a lot of effort into it to get it to that point — fans included. It took a lot of hard-earned money and time and effort to show the support for it. And it kills me not seeing the stadium sold out. I hate not seeing the wall completely full.

But I know it can get back to that and I do think James O’Connor is the kind of coach and is the man who can help get them back to that point. I have all the faith in him from having played with him, seeing how he is in the locker room with guys. He is no-nonsense, he will hold you accountable. I still remember the things that he would say to me on the field. I played for 12 years and there’s very few things I do remember teammates saying. Most of it’s from him because he knows how to get the most out of people. He demands that. And I hope that he’s given the opportunity to be able to right the ship, because he’s given you glimpses and signs of it. And on a night where there was maybe a little bit better performance, the story could have been Orlando City playing against Minnesota United in the Open Cup final. They just didn’t take their chances on the evening, you know?

Michael: What does it mean to you to see Exploria Stadium rocking, as someone who was here before the MLS years and who helped build the foundation for everything that came later?

JW: It was a lot of people. Much like every other club, everybody’s a piece to the puzzle. Some people have to put up the money to have to be able to fund the team and make these things happen. Or maybe the corner pieces that you can’t really do without. Or maybe a big piece right in the middle. And some are pieces are off in the distance. And if a couple of pieces are missing you can still make out what the picture is, and it’s not make or break. But every piece is needed to complete it.

I’m very thankful for my time having been there. There’s a reason I’m still outspoken about it, because it was that great and I hope we get back to that point. Look, however it ended, good, bad, or indifferent, everybody cares about this club. You can’t be a part of Orlando City and not feel the passion that the Iron Lion has, or the Ruckus has, or The Wall has, or that stadium has. It drives inspiration to a player. I know how great it can be and I was lucky to be a part of that because I know it can be something very, very special. And I don’t think it’s far off from getting back to that point.

It’s just going to take a little bit of something, a little bit of patience, a little bit of time, and a little bit of faith and the right people doing it. Hopefully people will get the opportunity to right the ship and I’ll be the happiest person when it gets back to that point and, like I said, I think that could be sooner rather than later.

Michael: Obviously Dom Dwyer and Adrian Heath have a great admiration and respect for each other. Knowing them and what a tough season Dom’s had on the field, what do you think we’d see from him if he scored on Minnesota? Would his celebration be muted? Would we get the back flip?

JW: Dom is free to do whatever he wants. It’ll never change the good times we had together as a group. I know without a doubt that Adrian Heath was incredibly instrumental in Dom’s career and Dom was very instrumental in Adrian’s rise with Orlando City and how well the team did. So there’s a lot of respect both ways. If Dom wants to celebrate with a flip, go for it, because I know right now he’s wanting to score more goals and contributing more than he has been lately. So I know it’ll mean a lot for him to get back on the score sheet. And I want to see him back on the score sheet. I don’t want it to be Saturday night unless it’s in a losing effort. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him keep the celebration muted out of respect for Adrian Heath. Either way, it’s not going to change anything. Hopefully he scores a hat trick and Minnesota wins 4-3 so everybody can be happy. (Laughs)

But I love that guy. I hope the fans stick with him because I know he can get turned around. I know he’s desperate to score. I’ve talked to him. He loves it in Orlando. He loves the fans there. It’s just that sometimes when you’re a forward the goal seems like it’s 30 yards wide and some days it feels like it’s three feet wide. Once the dam breaks, it’ll start coming in floods again and it’ll be all normal again. He’ll be Dom effin’ Dwyer, scoring when he wants.