Jeff Bradley: Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath on expansion, Designated Players & MLS prep
As part of his recurring series of interviews on MLSsoccer.com, senior writer Jeff Bradley spends 10 minutes with some of the biggest names in North American soccer to talk about how they’ve made their mark on the game through the years.
This week, Bradley spends some time with Adrian Heath, the coach of MLS's newest expansion team, Orlando City SC, who will begin play in the League in 2015. Heath, 52, played professionally for clubs such as Stoke City, Aston Villa, Everton and Manchester City, led Orlando City to the USL PRO championship this past season and now has the task of building an MLS team from the ground up.
BRADLEY: What's it been like in Orlando since the announcement this week that Orlando City are going to be an MLS expansion team in 2015?
HEATH: It's been unbelievable. I can't tell you how the people of Central Florida have reacted. I've been getting recognized on the street. There's a huge buzz about it all. We've made a mark in the city and the city has responded. Now it's time to build on that.
BRADLEY: At what point did you begin preparing for MLS? Was it a while ago, or did you wait until this week, when everything became official?
HEATH: It's been hard keeping this under wraps. It's been the worst-kept secret in football for about three weeks. But from our point of view, we'd already been working, knowing that we have about 15 months to get ourselves prepared to put a team on the field that's going to be competitive on Opening Day.
BRADLEY: What's your plan for 2014?
HEATH: We won the USL [PRO] title again this year and then we cut about 15 players. That wasn't easy, but we did it with the knowledge that the MLS announcement was coming and we know we have to bring in players who have a chance to go with us to the next level. With that in mind, we've kept some experience around and now we'll look to bring in some younger guys who have potential to move forward with us.
BRADLEY: Where will these players come from?
HEATH: Obviously, there's lots of traveling involved. I've been working this morning on plans to get down to Central America in the next few months. And I'm certainly going to be getting down to Brazil because our owner Flávio da Silva's got a lot of links down there. So we've got a lot of work to do and a bit of time, but having spoken to the people in Portland and Vancouver, we've been told this time will go by very quickly. So we need to get to work.
BRADLEY: How closely will you be watching MLS in 2014, even though you're going to be coaching a team in USL PRO?
HEATH: I'll be doing a bit of both, coaching my team and scouting MLS. I'll have enough time to watch the games on television and maybe get to some reserve team games. That will be very important for us before any expansion draft. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're looking forward to it. We've got a lot to learn about managing a salary cap, etc., and we'll need to bring in somebody who's got some experience working with that, but the buildup is very exciting.
BRADLEY: Sounds like anyone who plays for you this year will be on trial.
HEATH: We're all trying to secure our places. A lot of these guys have been with me for a few years. A player like Jamie Watson, for example, he desperately wants to get back into MLS. We have players with a lot of ambition. We know MLS is bigger week in and week out than what we play in now, but these players have an opportunity to win a spot.
BRADLEY: Phil Rawlins told me a few weeks ago that Orlando City already have a distinctive style of play that it is implementing from the youth ranks on up. How would you describe that style?
HEATH: First and foremost, we've always been a possession team. We like to move the ball very quickly. The biggest compliment anyone has paid us the last couple of years is that we play a bit like the Arsenal. We like to play through the middle of the field. We like to play short, angled passes. I think the fact that we scored more goals than any team in the States the last two years proves the way we play is successful. We believe in what we're doing and we think our style makes us a fun team to watch.
BRADLEY: Can the fans of Orlando City look forward, right away, to having a big-name Designated Player on their roster?
HEATH: Yes. We've made it known from the beginning that certainly one DP is going to be a well-known Brazilian player. Flávio has made no secret to the fact that he wants a Brazilian star like Kaká, and because of Flávio's connections, people are putting two and two together and thinking that's what's going to happen. Right now, Kaká is still under contract with Milan, but we see he's pain free for the first time in a while. Somebody like that would be absolutely fantastic. If it's not going to be Kaká, I'm sure we'll try to bring in another player like that stature. That's one thing we've made clear, that we want to bring some superstar caliber talent to the club right away.
BRADLEY: For those who don't know your story, tell us a little about your past and how exactly you got here.
HEATH: I played professionally for the better part of 20 years, had a decent career, managed to win the league a few times, play in a few FA Cups. Then I went into coaching and managing. When I lost my job as manager at Coventry City in 2007, that was probably my toughest moment, because I didn't think I deserved that. But that's when Phil called me and said, "I want to build a club in America. Do you want to come with me? We don't know where we're going to play. We don't know what the name of the team is. We don't know what our colors will be."
It was pretty basic stuff, so to be where we are six years later is a remarkable achievement. But the growth of the game in North America is one of the things that really excited me. That's what gave me the impetus to push on. I think there's still a lot of room left for growth, so I'm excited to be a part of it.