GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – As Minnesota United unveiled Chris Wright as their first ever CEO Monday, the former president of the NBA's Minnesota Timbers addressed everything he saw as a strength of his new club. Including its current head coach.
Wright was full of praise for Adrian Heath, saying he was “determined to have this [side] be an MLS champion.” He later doubled down, saying he wanted his legacy as an executive to include “Adrian Heath as our manager to win an MLS championship.”
No goodwill is permanent in the world of coaching. But such an obvious double vote of confidence seems to indicate that Heath will indeed return next season as Minnesota’s head coach.
Despite a shockingly poor start to the season and a later summer swoon, Heath has righted the ship as of late, with his side winning two of their last three away fixtures. Speaking with MLSsoccer.com after the press conference, Heath seemed a bit relieved after the new boss praised him.
"Is the squad where we want it to be? No," Heath said. "I take a great deal of satisfaction in where we are from where we started. On the road, you’ve got to man up and be counted. That mentality has changed.”
Minnesota lost their first two MLS matches by a combined 11-2 score. But while some onlookers believed sky was falling, Heath helped oversee two major changes in late March in the introduction of Marc Burch and Sam Cronin.
“They brought a bit of experience, a lot of leadership, and are people who’ve been through the rigors of an MLS season," Heath said. "Couple that with the inclusion of Brent Kallman at that time. I think you look at that moment, around the 4-2 win against RSL, we started to pick up points.”
Heath cited the tandem of Cronin and Burch as two catalysts for the improved road performance. However, it’s been hard to keep both of them on the field since the summer rolled around. Saturday’s win over Montreal marked Burch’s first action since June 3. Meanwhile, Cronin has missed the last three matches with lingering head and neck issues.
Those absences, along with a month without goalscoring hero Christian Ramirez, have left the Loons testing their depth. For Heath, it starts to explain why the club is set to miss the postseason this year.
“I’d think we’d certainly be closer,” Heath reflected. “I really do. The other thing is that the players have grown. Abu [Danladi]’s not the same kid he was when we took him. He’s a better professional. If I look at the group as a whole, we’re far more comfortable. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
As Heath and the Loons look to close out the year strong, players like Danladi and Ramirez will hope to show enough to earn the coach’s faith for 2018. Midseason acquisitions like Ethan Finlay and Michael Boxall have only furthered to deepen Minnesota’s numbers. While only two starters in Saturday’s win (Kevin Molino and Francisco Calvo) started their inaugural match against Portland in March, Heath believes the squad is massively improved.
“The team that started the first three, four games has seen eight or nine changes since," he said. "I think most coaches in the league would all tell you that we think we’re pretty good at our job. At the end of the day, you’re veritably as good as your players."