Min­nesota coach Heath gets 2-year ex­ten­sion

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEDNESDAY - By Kyle Elia­son

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Time and a cou­ple more play­ers have been reg­u­lar, pub­lic re­quests from Adrian Heath, dat­ing back to his coach­ing days with Or­lando City SC. Since join­ing Min­nesota United FC ahead of its in­au­gu­ral Ma­jor League Soc­cer sea­son in 2017, Heath has been pro­vided with both.

Min­nesota United has given Heath a new con­tract guar­an­teed through 2021 with a club op­tion for 2022, a source con­firmed to Pro Soc­cer USA.

Heath’s ex­ten­sion is a re­ward for help­ing the fran­chise de­liver on its now-in­fa­mous, three-year plan. The specter of 2017-18 — over which the Loons be­came the first team in MLS his­tory to al­low 70-plus goals in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons — was in part ex­or­cised by the team’s first ap­pear­ance in the play­offs last sea­son. A deep U.S. Open Cup run in 2019 that saw the Loons be­come the first team from Min­nesota to reach the fi­nal of the 105-year-old tour­na­ment didn’t hurt, ei­ther.

The new con­tract, first re­ported by the Ath­letic’s Jeff Rueter, comes af­ter MNUFC re­or­ga­nized its front of­fice in Novem­ber. For­mer as­sis­tant coach Mark Wat­son was pro­moted to sport­ing di­rec­tor, where he will as­sume the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of player ac­qui­si­tion and re­ten­tion for the Loons’ first team along­side Heath, who will have in­creased say in per­son­nel de­ci­sions.

That greater in­flu­ence on player ac­qui­si­tion isn’t a new want for Heath, who un­suc­cess­fully sought as much with Or­lando. Heath spent eight sea­sons with OCSC, dat­ing back to its first in­car­na­tion as the Austin Az­tex in 2009. A re­lo­ca­tion to Or­lando in 2011 brought with it two USL cham­pi­onships and three reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tles. Then, as an MLS ex­pan­sion side in 2015, the Lions missed the play­offs by just five points.

On July 6, 2016, with OCSC hav­ing earned 20 points from its first 16 and in sev­enth place in the East­ern Con­fer­ence — one spot out of play­off con­tention — Heath was fired with 14 games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Lions fared no bet­ter with­out Heath that sea­son, and slid to eighth in the East by sea­son’s end.

Heath made no se­cret he felt hard done by be­ing fired mid­way through Or­lando’s sec­ond MLS sea­son.

When Heath landed on his feet in Min­nesota in 2017, the Loons’ brass hoped Heath’s ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing guided a lower-di­vi­sion team through the ex­pan­sion process would pay early div­i­dends. It did not, and Heath’s 1.06 points per game across his first two sea­sons with the Loons were lower marks than he had earned in any sea­son in Or­lando — USL and MLS years in­cluded.

Min­nesota also did not spend the kind of money that Or­lando did in each fran­chise’s re­spec­tive first two MLS sea­sons.

The fol­low­ing win­ter, Heath’s calls for ros­ter up­grades were an­swered. The team brought in cen­ter­back Ike Opara, right back Ro­main Mé­tanire, de­fen­sive mid­fielder Os­valdo Alonso and goal­keeper Vito Man­none. Opara and Man­none went on to win MLS De­fender and Goal­keeper of the Year, re­spec­tively, and both made the league’s Best XI.

That Loons post­sea­son run lasted only 90-plus min­utes, end­ing with a 2-1 loss to the vis­it­ing Gal­axy. In his postgame press con­fer­ence, Heath struck an old re­frain.

“We have to get bet­ter,” said Heath. “We have to bring qual­ity in. We did last year, and we have to do the same again. If we do, this group will be a match for any­body. But we can’t stand still, not in this league. Not in the Western Con­fer­ence, be­cause trust me, if we stand still, we lean back­wards.”

ANDY CLAY­TON-KING/AP

Min­nesota United coach Adrian Heath di­rects his club dur­ing a 2019 play­off match against the LA Gal­axy in St. Paul, Minn.

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