Its first season at Allianz Field now the past, Minnesota United faces forward with its sporting operations restructured by making coach Adrian Heath and assistant Mark Watson responsible for the club’s first team.
Heath is the only one not getting a new title in a series of positions redefined and officially announced Friday in what United CEO Chris Wright called a “natural evolution of our club.”
Heath’s role has expanded to include — teamed with Watson, who is the team’s new technical director — scouting, negotiating and procuring a first team that was remade in a major way last season.
“The role of the manager is so much more than just coaching the team, which is what it was 20 years ago,” said Heath, using the English term for coach.
Former sporting director Manny Lagos now is the team’s new chief soccer officer to whom Heath will report. Lagos will still oversee the team’s sporting department, now focused on keeping the franchise abreast with the growth in MLS and the sport globally.
A former player and coach and Minnesota-raised, Lagos will take on new duties including development of United’s youth academy, its second team and possibly its own USL team. He also will oversee expanding not only of its sports science and sports medicine departments but also its National Sports Center training facilities in Blaine.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, I really am,” Lagos said. “I know this market really well. I know Minnesota. We have a history of producing players. We have a history of understanding we have to do it our way because of where we are, because of our climate.”
Head athletic trainer Stacey Hardin will become the new senior director of player health and performance. Player personnel director Amos Magee now will report to Watson.
Watson was scouting in Europe on Friday. Assistant coach Ian Fuller was there last week and Heath will be there in December while the team scouts South America as well.
“I concentrate more on what I do best with the first team,” Heath said. “The growth of the club has been incredible. Now me and Mark can concentrate not just on tomorrow but on the next three or four [transfer] windows down the road. This gives us a couple minds to concentrate on that. Ultimately, we’ll live and die by our recruitment, by what we put on the field.”
A three-day MLS trade window begins Monday to allow teams to modify their rosters before the Nov. 19 expansion draft supplies players to new teams in Nashville and Miami. United has a contract option on star Darwin Quintero and could exercise that option, decline it, trade him to another MLS team or loan or transfer to another team worldwide by a December deadline.
“We’re working on that at this moment, still going on,” Heath said.
Heath said United “obviously” is working to bring back MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone and is prepared to keep him among the league’s highest-paid keepers. Mannone said after season’s end that he’ll return home to contemplate his options in Europe (perhaps back home in Italy) and the United States next season.
Heath also must make decisions on whether to bring back such players as Angelo Rodriguez, Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino.
Mannone, 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara and MLS All-Star Romain Metanire were three of five new starters acquired last offseason. United then added Finnish national team midfielder Robin Lod and young designated player Thomas Chacon, a teenager from Uruguay, during the summer transfer window.
“It doesn’t stand still,” Heath said. “The five players brought in last offseason had a huge impact on the group. Hopefully, we don’t have to keep on going and get five every year, but every window we can keep adding and make us more competitive. We have to keep pushing. There will be decisions, movement in and out. Everything we do will be to make things better.”
Heath acknowledged some of MLS’ defining players are scorers such as Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Josef Martinez, whose multimillion-dollar salaries United can’t afford.
“I worry about what we can do,” Heath said. “We have to go find the value. We think we’ve done that in certain areas. That’s the test for me and Mark Watson. Can we go and find somebody? Not at those figures, but someone who can come in and have the same impact. They are out, but you’ve got to go find them.”
That’s his job now.