Bright lights, suits and ties and microphones dominated the Minnesota United news conference to announce Adrian Heath as the coach who will lead the Loons into their Major League Soccer debut next spring.
Heath, 55, thanked team owner Bill McGuire, President Nick Rogers and Sporting Director Manny Lagos and added, “I’m just so proud and pleased that they decided I’m the guy they want to take this forward.”
Then he and Lagos unfurled a large supporter’s scarf and stood smiling as team employees and local soccer enthusiasts applauded.
The mood Tuesday morning was mostly business at the team’s Golden Valley headquarters, where Heath joins a franchise stepping up to a bigger American soccer stage. The team is just two weeks from its first player draft and less than two months from the start of training camp.
The former striker, who played and coached in England, is familiar with transitions. He guided Orlando City’s franchise from the United Soccer League to MLS in 2015. Before that, he helped the former Austin Aztex franchise in Texas move to Florida. His Orlando teams won league titles in 2011 and 2013, and he received coach of the year awards in 2010 and 2012.
“He’s a winner,” said Djorn Buchholz, former CEO of the Austin Aztex who previously worked for the Minnesota franchise. “He’s a very animated character. He’s got the best personality of any coach in the league, in my opinion.”
Heath shared a glimpse of that personality Tuesday when he joked, “I left school at 15, 16 years of age and I’m still doing it at 55,” Heath said. “It’s like nobody has called me out. I’m still getting away with it.”
According to former soccer allies, Heath, a music lover who sings karaoke and plays name-that-tune in the team van, can speak with a colorful vocabulary and rarely filters his opinions.
Heath earned Buchholz’s vote for best singer.
“We’ve had some karaoke battles,” Buchholz said. “He likes a lot of the Beatles songs.”
The Fab Four’s “Eight Days a Week” could be Minnesota United’s theme song as the club attempts to “find 28 players in 12 weeks,” Heath said. Not that he’s complaining. In the past few days, Heath pored over “70 to 80 games” while scouting players. He and Lagos were to board a red-eye flight Wednesday to South America for additional meetings and player evaluation.
The club is preparing for the Dec. 13 expansion draft of players left unprotected by other MLS teams. Atlanta, which enters MLS with Minnesota in 2017, holds the first pick. Minnesota drafts second, and the teams alternate picks for the remainder of the five-round draft.
The list of eligible players and free agents will be released Dec. 11. Minnesota holds the first pick in the college SuperDraft on Jan. 13.
Future Loons’ players had better be prepared to show their worth, said Max Griffin, who played for Heath in Austin and Orlando before a one-season stint with Minnesota.
“Big names or status doesn’t intimidate him,” Griffin said. “Hardworking, honest players are going to play for him.”
They will have some fun, too.
“I’ve rode in his van for away trips, and he’ll sing some old songs to see if we can name them,” Griffin said. “He’s got a decent voice.”
Heath’s Orlando City side played his preferred attacking, possession style and stayed in contention until the final weekend of the 2015 season. Staying power is notable, considering none of the six MLS expansion teams that entered the league since 2010 made the playoff in their first season.
His teams were 16-18-16 in 1½ seasons of MLS play. Heath was fired in July with the team sitting 4-4-8.
“I saw enough in the last 18 months down in Orlando that we can put a team together to compete from Day 1 in Minnesota,” Heath said. “That has to be the aim.”
Joining Heath on the coaching staff is Ian Fuller, who was an assistant at Minnesota under former coach Carl Craig last season and worked with Heath for a combined five years in Austin and Orlando.
Heath said the club’s youth academy, under the recently hired Tim Carter, will begin next year.
“We can build a proper football club that over the next few years will grow and grow and be one of the mainstays of Major League Soccer,” Heath said.