Adrian Heath will be the first MLS manager in the history of Minnesota United. The club announced Heath’s hiring on Tuesday as they prepare for their expansion season in 2017 and, for the first time, we finally have some insight as to what the Loons have in mind for their club.
Whereas Atlanta United have been very proactive in setting up their front office and publicly declaring their intention and goals for their expansion season, also in 2017, Minnesota United have kept things close to the vest. There weren’t many rumors as to who the Loons might hire and sporting director Manny Lagos didn’t hit the media circuit, espousing the direction that he intended to take the club. Minnesota haven’t even signed a single player yet, while Atlanta have signed eight players, including a Designated Player and two Homegrown Players.
That’s not to say that Minnesota’s approach is wrong. It’s just the complete opposite of the team that they are entering the league with and leaving little indication of what team the Loons might put out next year.
Heath managed in England with Burnley, Sheffield United and Coventry, but is well-schooled in American soccer. He is very much from the inside of the community and its eccentricities, having managed the Austin Aztex in USL and gone with them when they moved to Orlando. There, he managed the Lions to four USL trophies before leading them as they transitioned to MLS. He is someone who understands American soccer and, most importantly for Minnesota, someone who has experience in building and coaching an expansion team.
Heath’s teams didn’t play the most expansive, ambitious, beautiful soccer, but they weren’t neanderthals either. They relied on pace, but as much to force tempo as anything. Not coincidentally, it’s easier to find players who can play that style for an expansion team than it is to load up on super skillful players.
Hiring Heath also happens to be very different than Atlanta’s hire of Gerardo Martino. Heath is someone who doesn’t just have MLS experience and extensive ties to the American soccer community, he’s built an expansion team. The roster rules in MLS make managing a team hard enough, and that’s increased with an expansion team. Martino is an Argentine who has managed teams at the highest levels around the world, but never managed in this country and is now learning the league and its rules.
It’s still too early to say what Lagos and Minnesota will do the rest of the way and what kind of team they will put together. After all, they only have a coach. But that coach does make it look like they want institutional knowledge, experience and are going to stick with an MLS-proven blueprint.