MNUFC in Melbourne: Catching up with Adrian Heath

Minnesota United is nearing the end of a two-week preseason trip to Melbourne, Florida, where the Loons have gone through grueling double training sessions, scored 12 goals across two scrimmages –– including first strikes with the team for rookies Mason Toye and Xavier Gomez –– and started to embrace what it means to be a member of the MNUFC family.

"The collective is always stronger than the individual," says Head Coach Adrian Heath, so in an effort to get a better sense of how the club is coming together as it looks toward its second season in Major League Soccer, we sat down with the gaffer to hear his thoughts.

On Kevin Molino scoring three goals in first two preseason matches and his positioning on the pitch …

We’re trying to keep him further up the pitch. He wants to play so much that at times he gets too deep for me and links plays up but it’s in non-dangerous areas –– or areas that are not as dangerous. We want him in and around the penalty area. I know he can score double figures goals, double figures assists, because that’s what his ability is. Last year, I think, if you look at the Christian Ramirez highlight reel of all his goals, five or six of them are from assists from Kevin. We know he can do that. But I also know he can score, because I’ve seen him score, I’ve seen him grow into a goalscorer. That’s the one thing that we’ve spoken about, I expect him to get double figures this year. So, we’re trying to keep him higher up the field and it’s difficult for him, because he wants to get on the ball so much that at times he comes back and he wants to help people. But, I’ve told him, for us to get the best benefit out of Kevin Molino we need him in and around the penalty area where he’s most effective. So, we’ve spoken about it. Hopefully, you know, this preseason will sort of reinforce that. The more he gets in and around the penalty area the more he will contribute with goals and assists.

On Abu Danladi and Mason Toye combining for five goals and two assists against Eastern Florida State College, their contributions to each other’s goals and play in general …  

We’ve certainly, even the staff have seen a difference in Abu coming back. I don’t know why he seems bigger, he seems stronger, he seems hungrier. I think he knows this is a big, big year for him. He showed what he can do last year in glimpses and now we need to see it on a more consistent basis. And, you know, this was the first time we probably saw the best of Mason. Great pace, technically very, very good and looked a good finisher. It’s funny, because even going back to the first game, I look back and Mason could have probably got six goals in the last two games. He’s proven to be a goalscorer throughout his young career. So, we need to keep working with him but there were some really good signs the other night that we’ve got a really good player. He has all the tools that we thought when we took him. Having worked with him now for a couple of weeks, this kid can go as far as he wants to go because he has a lot of tools to work with. As I said, great pace, good feet and looks as though he’s a good finisher as well. So, we’re really encouraged. I was really encouraged with all the rookies. [Xavier Gomez] comes on and gets himself a goal. [Wyatt Omsberg], little things we’ve been talking about to him. We knew he was a smart lad –– you don’t go to Dartmouth if you’re not a smart kid –– but you only have to tell him once. He’s starting to learn. Super athletic kid, really good feet. Him and [Carter Manley], we’re really, really pleased with the four rookies that we brought in. And I think at some stage this year they will all be contributors for us.

On whether he noticed a difference from the rookies’ first 45 minutes against FIU to their second half against EFSC …

Well, I did. And I think one of the things that we said to them is that –– the second group, certainly –– is that we want them … I want the second group of players –– whoever they are, and we haven’t decided yet who is in the first group and who is in the second group yet, who is a first-team player and who is going to be a reserve this year –– to make sure that they’re competing for a spot. The one thing I do know is that in three or four areas the competition is so hard. We’ve got Christian [Ramirez] up there. Abu is going to be pushing him. If we play one up front this year, that’s going to be a fierce battle, them two, because we’ve got two guys who can score. I just think that, I’ve been really pleased with the players’ attitude. They’ve trained, you’ve seen it, we’ve trained twice a day nearly everyday. And to compete like they have in the games as well. That’s the problem at this stage of the year: you train everyday and it makes you tired for the games, but you have to put the games in to get the players’ fitness to the required level. It’s not easy. But they’ve been terrific so far.

On competition within the team …

Well, we had a sort of presentation to the players and we spoke about being a good teammate, being a good professional. A part of being a good professional is that you every single day come in, train as hard as you can and help the people around you to get better as much as you are trying to get better. Because it’s not another player’s fault that he’s ahead of you. And, you know, if you’ve got any frustrations or any gripes about the way things are going, come and see the coaching staff. That’s what we’re here for. And I think the most important thing is that we’re all here for the common good, which is to make Minnesota better. The one thing I do know, I was talking about this yesterday, this is my 41st preseason, is that the collective is always stronger than the individual. And certainly for us. We’re not a club that’s going to spend $15 million on a player. So, we all have to stick together and work hard together as a group. But, having been in them teams, you can achieve an awful lot if everyone has the same goal and is on the same page. And that’s one thing that we’ve been preaching to the players. And, you know, the players so far, the last two weeks, have been fantastic.

On this year vs. last year …

Well, I think that the mood in the camp is so much healthier and better now than it was this time last year because everybody is more comfortable, everybody knows each other. There’s been a little sprinkling of new additions. Last year, everybody was new. So, it’s just a completely different vibe. And we’ve sensed that. And it’s strange, because speaking to the people here who know us, they get it. They can see a difference as well. So, so far it’s been really, really good. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m really happy with where we are at this moment in time.

On Frantz Pangop …

Well, obviously he’s had sort of two weeks of inactivity, waiting for visas and everything. Obviously, he left his team over in Cameroon, so he’s been training on his own. So, he’s a little bit behind the rest of them, but hopefully we’ll get him some time against Orlando at the weekend. We’re really impressed with what we’ve seen. Ian Fuller went down and came back and really liked him when he was playing for the Cameroon national team. So, he’s another one that we think is another good piece for us. Competition in the wide areas, we’ve got a lot of players out there. He knows it’s going to be tough for him. But, he seems a great kid, he’s so happy to be here. You can see that. So, we’re looking forward to working with him. Hopefully he can be someone who’s going to help us throughout the season.