Christian Ramirez made a beeline straight for the sideline while the net still swayed from the impact of his goal.
With arms outstretched, he ran into Adrian Heath’s waiting embrace and conveyed a simple but heartfelt message to his coach:
“That one’s for you. I know how much this means to you.”
About a month shy of the one-year anniversary of Heath’s firing from longtime club Orlando City SC, Minnesota United took some revenge against its leader’s former team, shutting out Orlando 1-0 on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 18,896.
Heath has made it no secret that he was disappointed in how his eight-year tenure at Orlando ended. He built the club up from literal nonexistence to a Major League Soccer squad. But after failing to make the playoffs his first season in MLS back in 2015 and a lackluster start in 2016, Orlando showed the only coach it had ever known the door.
Heath joined United (4-7-2) about five months later, refocusing on a new project with another expansion team.
“The players know what it means to players when they go back to their old club, and it’s no different for coaches,” Heath said. “An awful lot [has been] said about my relationship and departure from Orlando, but I did say this week, yeah, I wanted to win probably more today than I have in the past.
“But the most important thing was for the club to win. For the team to win. For Minnesota United.”
Heath and two of his assistants, Ian Fuller and Mark Watson, were on the staff together at Orlando. Midfielder Kevin Molino also spent six years with Orlando (6-5-2) before his trade to United this offseason. An illness kept him out of the match.
With all that history, it wasn’t hard for the players to find that added incentive to win.
“We knew since the beginning he really wanted this win,” midfielder Miguel Ibarra said of Heath. “We all knew it was really important for him. All we wanted to do was just get this win for him, and the team was all up for it. And we got the three points. At the end, we’re all celebrating.”
Ramirez’s 56th-minute strike ended up being the deciding factor. Midfielder Johan Venegas flicked the ball over the heads of Orlando City’s defense straight to the forward’s feet. Ramirez then dribbled past Orlando’s diving goalkeeper and a sliding defender and easily tapped the ball into the open net.
Ramirez said his goal celebration with his coach was just an “in the moment” decision.
“I know what this game meant to him, for everything that he’s done for that club and how things ended there,” Ramirez said. “So I made sure that he got recognized for what he’s doing here.”
Heath said the strange fact about this victory is that United didn’t play as well as it has in the past two or three weeks, in which the Loons suffered close losses. But the coach’s reasoning for that phenomenon could also be a bit of a metaphor for his triumph against his previous team.
“We got the rewards for what we put in over the last two or three weeks,” Heath said. “You don’t always get it at the appropriate time. But our determination to try and get a result and hold on to it at the end I thought was evident, and was there for everybody to see.”