New Minnesota United FC head coach Adrian Heath put down his pint glass, left the table of United supporters he was chatting up, and mounted the stairs of The Local on Tuesday night to address the entire bar. The Growler’s Joe Alton and I debated if any other coach in town would be caught dead doing this. We settled on the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, who stands out in the often soulless, fun-crushing NFL by appearing to possess actual human qualities, if not a functioning offensive line.
It was a trip to watch the man who will lead Minnesota into Major League Soccer in 2017 mingle with the be-scarved masses and encourage them to add some volume to their United-specific version of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
— Joseph Alton (@JoeAlton) November 30, 2016
Heath had already spent a long first day on the job doing meet-and-greets and press opportunities, with occasional trips back to his office to look for potential players; in fact, he would be on the first Wednesday flight to Argentina with United Sporting Director Manny Lagos for a scouting trip. But here he was, at the bar, with the fans, on a dead Minneapolis weeknight, trying to build something.
If you’ve been to a United game in the fearsome hinterlands of Blaine, you know that the team has built an adoring, soccer-crazed following, with not one but two supporter groups (Dark Clouds and True North Elite, take a bow, and nice work on some truly intricate facial hair). Getting your new coach to have a beer with the hardcore fans of your team may seem like a no-brainer, but if you ever see the Minnesota Wild’s Bruce Boudreau shutting down Tom Reid’s with a couple guys in Dino Ciccarelli throwbacks, let me know.
At one of those aforementioned press opportunities, I had the chance to ask Heath a few questions about his past, the rise of American soccer, and his move to Minnesota.
On a life in soccer:
“I was a season ticket holder for Stoke City at the age of four. I joined Stoke at 14, made my debut at 16, then became a regular for Everton for seven seasons. It was a natural transition for me from player to coach. I was coaching when I was playing. I always wanted to know the reason why we were doing what we were doing. And that rush you get from coaching is the closest you can get to playing the game. I get so much satisfaction from it.”
“I’ve been doing this for a job since I was 16, and they still haven’t found me out at 55!”
On whether he was surprised to find out The Local was the home base for fans of his former team:
“It doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s a truly global game now. Of course there’s an Everton bar in Minneapolis.”
On watching soccer steadily gain a foothold in the American market since coming here to coach the Austin, Texas, franchise in the now-defunct USL:
“I knew it had arrived in the States during the World Cup. I went to a bar to watch a game, and they had whole streets blocked off. There were thousands of people there, just to watch the World Cup, in Austin, Texas.
“I think the tipping point was getting the Premier League on NBC every weekend. Now you have teams like Chelsea come over here and sell 25,000 tickets for an exhibition. It’s amazing to me.”
On the connection that led him to Minnesota:
“I’ve known Manny Lagos since my Austin days. He’s the best salesman ever for Minnesota. I’m in a really good place here to help grow the game.”