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Adrian Heath to Minnesota

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

As has been reported in multiple outlets, Minnesota United has indeed chosen Adrian Heath as the first head coach in its Major League Soccer history, multiple sources with knowledge of the deal confirmed to FourFourTwo.

The contract is not yet finalized; however, it is expected to be a done deal in the coming days.

Heath, the former Orlando City boss, went 16-18-16 in one and a half seasons with the Lions in MLS. Prior to that MLS tenure, Heath directed one of the winningest programs in USL history, guiding Orlando City to two USL championships and three USL regular season crowns.

Heath beat out two other finalists for the job: New York Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese and former Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, according to a source. Former NASL coach Carl Craig was also considered for the position. United’s ownership group met last Tuesday and ultimately approved Heath as the hire.

Orlando City opted to fire Heath midway through last season with the Lions sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, citing a lack of progress. The decision fit a pattern of moves for Orlando City, which also pushed general manager Paul McDonough out after one year despite what was considered relative success in its expansion season.

Heath and McDonough were the main architects of what was sold as a “three-year plan” in Orlando, which included signing several younger players. Now, in what would have been the third year of that plan, McDonough and Heath will be back in MLS guiding the two expansion teams. McDonough was hired by Atlanta United as director of soccer operations in December 2015.

What to make of the hire if you’re a Minnesota fan?

As the Orlando Sentinel’s beat reporter covering Orlando City in 2014 and 2015, I got a chance to see Heath up close as he worked with the Lions squad.  Here’s what you’re going to get: a fiery coach with a personality that will connect to the community and a team that likes to play an attacking brand of soccer.

Heath, who had a prolific scoring career as a forward with Everton, is an offensive coach and prefers to play out of a 4-2-3-1 system. Heath joined Everton in 1982 for a club-record fee and went on to score 71 goals there, holding the record for most goals in a calendar year that was only recently broken by Romelu Lukaku. He has had a huge role in developing two of the top strikers in MLS, Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin, and will no doubt be on the lookout for another young striker to lead his forward line.

But more important than any on-field style is the personality Heath will bring to Minnesota. The coach has the ability to make traditional media pay attention to soccer. He did so in Orlando, where columnists and TV personalities, who otherwise would have ignored soccer, started to cover the team. They did so because of Heath’s candor, sense of humor and ability to talk about sports outside of soccer. His weekly radio appearance with Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi was a hit for the local radio station, 96.9 The Game.

That has significant value in a market that will try to expand its fan base as it moves into the top league in the U.S.

And while many will think of Heath as a hot-weather coach – he headed up his only American franchise in San Antonio and Orlando – Heath should fit in well in Minnesota. Heath is a native of Stoke-on-Trent in England, and it’s not exactly the warmest climate. There is a saying in England, “But can they do it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke?” which could translate well to an early-spring or fall game in the Twin Cities.

Heath will have his work cut out once officially announced as coach. Minnesota has only signed two players to its MLS roster. According to reports, United has inked NASL defenders Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas. The club is also in contract talks with star forward Christian Ramirez.

What they look to do with the roster is the next question. You can expect Minnesota to target a No. 10 playmaker – Molino was his prized pupil in Orlando – as well as wingers capable of inverting and cutting inside. He’ll also target overlapping fullbacks and two defensive midfielders capable of covering a lot of ground. The biggest signing, of course, will be up top.

Minnesota will have a bank of allocation money to make moves – at least $1.6 million in general allocation money – but as the first part of this column showed, it’s not easy to make it all work and build a roster capable of competing. It takes time, and that’s something Heath didn’t get in Orlando.

He will get a chance to try again in Minnesota.

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