ORLANDO, Fla. – Adrian Heath has admitted that Orlando City SC’s big 2016 signing Antonio Nocerino has yet to pay off in on-field terms, but insists the team will not be giving up on him anytime soon.
Despite some disapproval from the fan base, Heath will stick with the veteran midfielder, and fully expects him to be a valuable member of the team before the season is out.
Heath outlined the challenges that have faced the 31-year-old Italian, who arrived in late February after barely even warming the bench for AC Milan for the previous six months.
“It has not been an easy time for him to come into the group,” Heath admitted. “And it has not been a good time for the team as well in the last six games, so it has been a double problem for him in many ways.
“First, he has been fighting to get his match fitness, having not had a preseason at all. And then he’s come into a team that has not hit its stride recently. But he’s been working really hard to get in the best shape possible and he’s a really good character, so I’m not overly worried.”
Heath is also sanguine enough to know players go through peaks and troughs, and insists it is just unfortunate Nocerino has hit a rough patch to start his Lions career.
“We’ve all been there,” the head coach added. “There’s not a player who hasn’t had a spell where it’s not going as well as you’d like, but he’s working hard and we’ll give him time to come through this. He’s not the only one who’s fighting for form at the moment but we have to get through it.
“It’s never easy because the one thing you want when you go to a new club is to give a good impression of who you are and what you’re about. I think he’ll be the first to say he’s probably not played as well as he can but, if he had come in on the back of us winning five or six games, it would be a different story. Right now it’s a difficult period for him, but we have no doubt he’ll come out the other side.”
Crucially, Nocerino remains a popular and positive influence on the training field and in the locker room. He retains the confidence of both the coaching staff and skipper Kaká – a former Milan teammate – and Heath has no plans to blow things up despite the current six-game winless run.
“We still retain a lot of confidence in his ability and know the best days here are still ahead of Antonio,” he claimed. “We’re certainly not giving up on him. With four of the next five games at home, we can regain some confidence. Two wins would put us right back in the mix, and I think it will be an easier time for everybody, including Antonio.”
Heath has still promised there will be a shake-up for Saturday’s game with Montreal on the back of last weekend’s limp 2-1 defeat at Sporting Kansas City. With vice-captain Darwin Ceren out for at least five weeks, Adrian Winter seems likely to get a start and fullback Kevin Alston could also figure. Colombian winger Carlos Rivas is angling for a place and Kaká could be pushed into more of an attacking role alongside Cyle Larin.
“Without giving too much away, there are going to be changes,” Heath said. “I owe it to the group and the rest of the players. Our performance last week wasn’t acceptable and there will be changes for the weekend.”