HOUSTON – Some of the best theater in sports comes from coaches or managers that don’t like each other.
A heated exchange on the benches, a contentious handshake – or lack thereof – draws plenty of eyes and even more commentary.
Just don’t expect any of those types of fireworks between Houston Dynamo manager Owen Coyle and his Orlando City SC counterpart Adrian Heath when they face off Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. The two are longtime friends, having known each other since their days coming up as young coaches in the United Kingdom.
“We go back a long time. It’s always nice when you play against friends and people you like,” Coyle said. “When the game’s finished we’ll sit down and have a coke, or he may be having a beer and I’ll be having a juice. The focus just now is on the game and making sure players are at their best.”
Coyle and Heath have been friends for some time going back to their days in the UK, where both had similar career paths. Each was a successful player and moved through the coaching ranks as player-coaches before eventually taking on their own jobs. Now both are trying to build rosters and adapt to a league that poses interesting challenges on and off the field.
Heath is in his first season in MLS after embarking on his American journey in 2008. He’s experienced the US game on several levels, beginning his stateside stint with the third-tier Austin Aztex before moving with the club to Orlando in 2011.
Like his old friend Heath, Coyle is also in his first season in the league, joining the Dynamo this offseason after Houston lost former head coach Dominic Kinnear to San Jose. Unlike Heath, however, this is Coyle’s first year living in the US, with the new Dynamo manager leaning on the Orlando City boss to help adjust before and after his move across the pond.
“He’s always been someone I’ve loved chatting with about the game, about how soccer’s developing,” Coyle said. “I brought my team to Orlando a few years back and even before that I brought them to Austin and a couple of his young players actually and trained with us when we were with Burnley. We chat, and obviously we met at the Combine and we spent a good bit of time there and there was one or two things I wanted him to enlighten me about as well.”
Now the two Brits are carrying the banner for foreign coaches in MLS. Coyle’s focus Friday will be getting his team to find cohesion in the attack and put together the types of passing he believes they’re capable of. And then there’s the specter of a certain Brazilian playmaker that Houston got a first-hand look at during their final game of preseason.
“You can’t get away from Kaka’s abilities. … You’ve not been the world player of the year by accident,” Coyle said. “What we’ve got to do is to make sure to try and nullify the threat he has because he’s a wonderful player.
“I’ve got a great rapport [with Adrian] and he’s somebody I’ve got a high opinion of, not just as a football coach but as a man,” Coyle said. “But the important thing and he’ll tell you the same, is that we focus on our team getting to the maximum to win a very tough game.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.