Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath is presiding over his second Major League Soccer expansion team in three seasons, having also done so with Orlando City in 2015. He chatted recently about the season to date with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q How much better do you feel about the club now than you did after the first four matches when you allowed 18 goals?
A The most important thing is that we’ve progressed and gotten better. That’s plain for everybody to see. And nobody saw the start we had coming. There was nothing to suggest it in the preseason with the results we had. It comes down to individual mistakes and collective mistakes. But we have changed it around a lot. I’ve had more time to see them and have an understanding of what people can and can’t do — what buttons to press with certain individuals. It was always going to take time, but when you’re having bad results, time takes even longer.
Q Are there particular challenges with an expansion team that aren’t present when you’ve had more time to work with a team?
A: The biggest issue is getting everyone in the building to have their own home, getting their wife and family here, getting their visas. They’re waiting for Social Security numbers because they can’t even buy anything. They can’t even buy a telephone. They don’t have credit history so they can’t buy a car. These are things people don’t think about, but when you have a lot of them arriving at the same time, it all becomes a big, time-consuming headache. Having done it twice, it doesn’t get easier. You can plan, but it’s completely different for every player.
Q We take for granted that these are elite athletes, but how much do you think performance is affected when individuals aren’t settled in their personal lives as you described?
A When someone can’t call home because they can’t get a phone, invariably it comes to the coach’s door. Then you can have an issue with the coach. All the little things, if you’re not careful, can become big things. Ultimately we try to make it as seamless as possible. If you talk about them, people think it’s an excuse because you’re not playing well. But trust me, when you have a lot going on, it has an impact. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve gotten better as we’ve had more time together and they’ve become more comfortable.
Q As the season progresses, what should be expected of this team?
A That we continue to improve. It might be small and incremental, but that’s the aim. We want to show that the work we’re doing on the training field is being implemented in games. That’s all very easily said, but that’s what the aim is. … We need to add two or three players to this group. We know that, and we knew that before. That’s the reality of the game.
Q The new stadium finally seems resolved and headed toward opening in 2019. How does that impact the club, even in the short term?
A I don’t think I can overstate how big this is going to be. That’s going to be our home. It becomes everything to not only you but your supporters. I had the same season ticket for 25 years with my dad at the old stadium in Stoke City. Even when I was a player, I still kept my season ticket. That was my piece, my connection. You can’t underestimate how big that’s going to be for the club.