ORLANDO, Fla. – When Adrian Heath signed up for life in US soccer eight years ago, he knew it would present a whole raft of different challenges than those he faced coaching in England. He didn’t realize it would include a scouting network of the most varied kind.
The Orlando City SC head coach has seen his team develop from humble USL roots in Austin, Texas, to an MLS franchise with influences that spread far and wide, and which utilizes every modern tool in an increasingly complex book.
From scouting trips to El Salvador and Colombia, to British soccer contacts in Switzerland and Hungary, Heath has called on a huge variety of sources to recruit the likes of Darwin Ceren, Carlos Rivas, Cristian Higuita, David Mateos and Adrian Winter.
It’s not uncommon to many MLS teams, but there is another influence much closer to home, and it is one that could well be a fruitful source for some time to come. Captain Kaká has already been instrumental in the signing of both Antonio Nocerino and Julio Baptista, and the club’s Brazilian connection remains open for more potential business.
“Yes, 'Ricky’s another one for us [as far as recruiting tools],” Heath said, referring to Kaká. “And I am sure it is increasingly the case that players like [the LA Galaxy's] Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are speaking to people like Robbie Keane and they are having an influence over who joins the league.
“This is an important part of the league’s growth process and it has already helped to bring in a lot of players who will help MLS get better, as it has done for us.”
Kaká’s AC Milan links have kept him in touch with players in Italy as well as his home country, where he spent six months playing for Sao Paulo in late 2014. And, while he keeps a relatively low profile away from the field, there is no doubting the influence he has with past teammates.
“Certainly Ricky has had a hand in things this year, especially in Brazil with Julio, who was trying to get himself fit again after a knee injury,” Heath said. “Ricky came to us and asked if it would be possible to let Julio come in and train with us, and we could also get a look at him at the same time.
“It quickly became apparent that if Julio could stay fit and healthy, he would be able to help us, and he looks as if he has plenty left in him at this stage. When he first arrived, we needed a foil for Cyle [Larin] at the end of games, but it’s also clear he can fit in if Cyle misses a game.”
That Brazilian recruiting influence is definitely one of the many spinoffs Kaká has brought to the team, and, while the Lions are playing their transfer window cards very close to their chest, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another South American signing – or two – this month.
While Heath would say only that the team is “looking to bring in three or four new players,” he did admit that keeping tabs on such a wide range of possibilities is now vital to all MLS coaches, especially with more players now looking at North America as a career option.
“Things have changed dramatically from when I first went into coaching nearly 20 years ago,” Heath explained. “In the old days, it was literally a matter of getting on a plane and seeing people [play] for yourself, and I still think that’s the best way of being sure about a player. But now we have a lot more information at our disposal.
“People are always sending us videos or YouTube links to players, and that kind of modern technology does cut out a lot of the crazy travel. I haven’t had many wild goose chases in recent years, although I did go down to El Salvador to look at a center forward – and came back with Darwin Ceren.”
The Orlando coach thinks the biggest development in recent years, though, comes from the increasing number of agents who are offering players from countries as diverse as Ecuador, Ghana, Russia and Switzerland.
“Agents are now a huge part of the business, and you are constantly hearing about players you didn’t even know were available,” Heath added. “Players from all over the world are available to everybody. We are getting it all the time, ‘So-and-so would love to come and play in MLS.’
“I have got people who are going to be out of contract in a year’s time whose agents are already sounding the club out about next year, either as a Designated Player or a TAM player, and I think that’s going to happen more and more in future with high-profile players.”