BLAINE, Minn – For Adrian Heath, managing against Orlando City SC will always be bittersweet.
The Minnesota United head coach spent over six seasons with the Lions prior to landing with the Loons, overseeing Orlando City’s transition from a USL outfit to MLS before he was let go in 2016.
The Loons host the Lions on Saturday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; DAZN in Canada) in what Heath calls “a very important match.” For Heath, his time in Orlando provided him with the foundation he needed to learn how to be a successful manager in MLS.
“If you play or coach against your old club, you always want to do well,” Heath said. “I had six and a half great years there, put an awful lot in, and they’ll always be more than just another team to me.”
Heath isn’t the only member of Minnesota United with ties to Orlando. Winger Kevin Molino played under Heath in Orlando, while former player-turned-Minnesota sideline reporter Jamie Watson also played under him there in the USL days.
The Loons have a 2-0-0 record against Orlando, with the last matchup between the sides ending in a 2-1 victory for Minnesota -- a game that saw Molino suffer a season-ending ACL tear.
“I love [Orlando] the first club I [played for] coming out of Trinidad and they gave me everything I wanted when I left Trinidad, they are a club close to my heart,” Molino said. “Unfortunately last game I had bad memories, hopefully this time around I have good memories.”
Heath made Molino one of the Loons’ major signings prior to the start of their 2017 expansion season. Their relationship on and off the pitch was one Heath wanted to continue in Minnesota, and for Molino, it made perfect sense. Heath's style is to build those relationships not just from the sideline, but also on the pitch.
“I’ve been with him, going on 10 years now, and I think he’s done fantastic, not just here, but also in Orlando,” Molino said. “I hope he continues doing well and takes us to the playoffs this year.”
Watson has seen the evolution of his former coach, from his days playing under him in Orlando to Heath's current post manning the sidelines in Minnesota.
After a tough first couple of seasons in Minnesota, Heath has overseen the club’s ascent into Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs contention. The Loons are riding high at the moment, currently in second place in the Western Conference while also landing in their first-ever U.S. Open Cup final on August 27 against Atlanta United.
“If I would have had him as a coach five years earlier than I did, I know my playing career would have been better,” Watson said. “I’ve seen Adrian grow so much, he’s been in situations where he’s had to change formations and tactics due to not having the right players, having injuries and suspensions or international call-ups. He’s persevered through those moments and frankly I don’t think a lot of coaches could do that. He’s here today because he can, because he adapts and grows and makes his entire team better.”