Why Orlando's Adrian Heath Put in the Best Coaching Performance Of His Career

The Lions' gaffer called it his 'toughest season' and it's easy to see why
by Chris Kimball   |   Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Purple Pride – column on Orlando City SC (OCSC) & the Orlando & Central Florida area soccer scene.

By the end of his squad's final regular season match last Saturday, Orlando City coach Adrian Heath was drenched in sweat, the result no doubt of the humid Florida summer. But the gaffer's excessive perspiration might just as easily have been an indicator of a season wrought with unforeseeable challenges, a season which Heath must have been relieved to know had just reached its merciful, albeit jubilant conclusion. The Lions had won the Commissioner's Cup, but it had not come easily.

In an interview last week on the club's official podcast, Heath revealed that this season has been the toughest he's ever had as a coach. It's easy to see why. For starters, Heath has been tasked with not only putting a team on the field capable of winning a USL PRO championship, but he's also been scouting and assembling players for next year's MLS squad.

It's a juggling act which others have either failed to pull off, or else didn't even attempt. The Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact each had miserable seasons prior to making the leap to MLS. Vancouver performed decently in their last NASL season, though nothing close to championship level. But the commitment to excellence which Heath and the club's front office have preached since their arrival in Orlando precluded any such "phoning it in."

And yet, had he known from the outset just how many core players he would lose over the course of this season, maybe Heath might have chosen to throw in the towel. "We lost a lot of [players], not only really good players, but really important pillars of the group," Heath pointed out. "People who have experience, people who have been through an awful lot."

Every starter on the back line went down to injury at some point during the campaign. Bryan Burke, still recovering from last year's injury, never contributed meaningfully. Veteran midfielder Anthony Pulis missed much of the season. Player/coach James O'Connor left the team to become the head coach at Louisville SC. And most harshly, MLS signee Yordany Alvarez was forced into early retirement due to a dramatic on-field injury.

It was Alvarez's departure in particular which weighed heavily on the team's coach. The Cuban defector fell to the ground in a heap during an early summer match. The details of his injury/condition were never disclosed, but it was serious enough for Alvarez to decide to never again lace on a pair of soccer cleats.

"It was a really sad day for me because I think everybody knows my feelings for Gio." Heath recounted. "He's one of my favorite players. Just from the shear fact of his story. I think people forget what this guy had to give up [to play soccer]. None of us are ever faced with that dilemma for the dream of having a better life and fulfilling the dream of being a professional soccer player...I was quite upset when I heard the news that he couldn't carry on playing because I know how much this means to him and the sacrifices that he's had to make."

The loss of Alvarez and others forced Heath to lean heavily on a batch of talented teenagers for most of the season. Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner in particular became regulars in Heath's new-look back line. The results were outstanding, but you can be sure their inexperience kept the gaffer's blood-pressure a little more elevated than he anticipated. "We have six players under the age of twenty. We're asking an awful lot of those players," Heath understated.

It's certainly not an understatement, however, to say that this has been the best coaching performance of Adrian Heath's career. There were more than enough excuses available to write off this season and put all of his attention on next year, especially considering the MLS-charged atmosphere in which he was working on a daily basis.

For months Heath had to field speculative questions about potential Brazilian players. And he had to attend countless glitzy press events about stadiums, corporate sponsors, and team logos. He had to get dressed up and smile for cameras, which one senses he did with all of the enthusiasm of a child going to the opera.

No, Adrian Heath prefers to be focused on "football" regardless of the difficulties, or maybe because of them. He prefers to sweat.

NEXT UP: September 13 - Orlando City SC vs. Harrisburg City Islanders, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando. 7:30 p.m. EST. YouTube live stream.

Chris KIMBALL

Nationality:
USA
College:
William & Mary
Club Domestic:
Orlando City
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Christopher is editor of Orlando Soccer Daily, covering the beautiful game for central Florida. A retired music exec turned soccer fanatic, he landed in Florida via Paris & Boston. When not working he's usually chasing after his 2 sons or suffering after
CHRIS'S SPONSORS