When Adrian Heath left England to spread soccer's gospel in America 13 years ago, he arrived in Austin, Texas, seeking to build the best minor league team in his new country.
He spent just two seasons managing the Austin Aztex before he and the club relocated to Orlando, but while there he dropped the seeds for a Major League Soccer expansion team that played its third game ever Saturday at Allianz Field.
Disillusioned and angry after he lost his Coventry City FC coaching job back home, he accepted an invitation from Phil Rawlins — a former part-owner and director for his and Heath's hometown Stoke City team in England — to come to Texas. That's where Rawlins lived at the time and developed a tech sales and marketing company.
"Build the club completely from the bottom," Heath said about the plan. "It went very well."
It went so well, Heath and Rawlins soon set their sights on moving up to MLS. They moved the team and their families in 2010 to Orlando, a market more ready for Major League Soccer.
"At that particular time, Austin wasn't a viable option for us," Heath said. "If we could have done it, we probably would have."
Orlando City made its MLS debut with Heath as coach in 2015. He was hired in November 2016 to coach Minnesota United after Orlando City fired him the summer before.
All these years later, Heath remains a University of Texas sports fan and a believer in Austin now as a MLS market. He remembers bars crowded with fans watching the 2010 World Cup from South Africa.
Austin FC was fast-tracked as a MLS expansion franchise that played its first game two weeks ago, with a 2-0 loss at Los Angeles FC. It scored three goals in 12 second-half minutes last week to win 3-1 at Colorado. It has new Q2 Stadium set to open, and actor Matthew McConaughey is a part owner.
"We always thought the market was very, very good," Heath said. "At that particular time, it wasn't an option for us. But I'm pleased. It's a great town and I have a lot of really good friends still there.
He knows Austin FC sporting director Claudio Reyna, a renowned former U.S. men's national team member who played in Europe and later was sporting director for New York City FC.
Austin FC arrived at Allianz Field on Saturday with one more victory than the 0-2 Loons had to start their season.
"I know Claudio very well and I know a lot of the people who support the club," Heath said. "I'm pleased they got theirs and I think they're going to do very, very well. Claudio has done it before in New York City. It doesn't surprise me they put a really good product together in a year's time."
Newly signed striker Ramon "Wanchope" Abila made his first start as a Loon in a lineup of 11 that had several changes.
Right-side attacker Robin Lod didn't play because of a chest injury, so versatile Hassani Dotson started on the left wing in a role where Heath planned to drop hm back to play with Wil Trapp and Ozzie Alonso, who were paired together to start in a defensive midfield for the first time.
Ethan Finlay moved back to the right side on the other side of star playmaker Emanuel Reynoso in the middle.
Jan Gregus moved to a substitute spot. Jukka Raitala started for injured Bakaye Dibassy (thigh) for a second consecutive game.
Trialist midfielder Aziel Jackson, acquired Friday from New York Red Bulls, was in uniform as a sub, as were young Justin McMaster and Patrick Weah.
Sticking with St. Clair
Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair started his third consecutive game to start the season despite his team getting outscored 6-1 in its first two games.
"I can't really think, if I'm being honest, were there's one you can put on Dayne now," Heath said. "We left him out to dry on a couple of them. Last week, I don't think we could blame the keeper for the two goals."