In July 2014, Head Coach Adrian Heath took the responsibility of building a new team from scratch around one of the greatest soccer players of our time, Kaká. Today, Orlando City’s roster for their Major League Soccer (MLS) debut has eight other young players. Six of them were recently called up for national team duty, a testament to The Gaffer’s talent for discovering and developing world class athletes.
"We don’t just look at their ability, we look at the future growth in them,” said Heath. “You look at the young players that we’ve signed. We have to be able to look at people not with today in mind. We’re fully aware when we bring players to the club that the first season in the MLS is going to be really important for us. But we also have to look forward as we develop the club as a whole."
Just ten days after Orlando City’s signing of Kaká became global news, Coach Heath traveled to Portugal in search of two new players for the squad - the first benefits from Orlando City’s strategic partnership with SL Benfica. In Lisbon, amid dozens of players from one of the most storied clubs in the world, Heath was intrigued by two young athletes, defender Rafael Ramos, 19, and midfielder Estrela, then only 18 years old.
“We were looking for somebody that could develop and grow with the club – that could break into the team but more importantly: Do they have potential to be not only MLS players, but maybe call international attention?” recalled Heath. “One of the things that we looked at was their attitude in training. They’re very competitive by nature, very determined and training every day to get better.”
Two months later, the young men made their debut for Orlando City, each scoring a goal in the Lions’ 3 - 2 win over the Richmond Kickers. After only eight weeks in Orlando, both received their first ever call ups to the Portugal U-20 National Team. Ramos and Estrela will face England on Nov. 17, as part of the preparations for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, to be held in New Zealand May 2015. If fate would have it, they could meet two Orlando City teammates in New Zealand: Defenders Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner.
After playing Orlando City’s 2014 USL PRO season as starters, 17-year old central defender Redding and 18-year old right-back Turner were called up for the first time by the U-20 USMNT for an international tournament in Spain.
The younger Orlando City players aren’t the only Lions seeing national team playing time. Kevin Molino and Darwin Cerén both have also recently excelled on the pitch representing their home country.
“We look at the ones with potential to develop and grow with the club. Perfect example of this is Kevin Molino”, said Heath. “Kevin has been with us since we’ve been here. When we signed him, we had the ability then - because the rest of the team was strong - to put him in the team and he has been allowed to develop, make his mistakes, mature with the team. The player we see now on the field and the player that came to us is just night and day but it took four years.”
Molino, 24, set the 2014 USL PRO regular season scoring record with 20 goals in 27 games and became one of the most important players for the Trinidad & Tobago’s National Team. Molino has scored in the last three matches of the semifinals of the Caribbean Cup, and has been called up to the competition finals, which starts on Nov. 10.
Midfielder Darwin Cerén has worn El Salvador’s captain armband several times. Cerén, 24, was one of the Salvadorian team highlights in the Central American Cup last September.
At 53 years old, Adrian Heath manages the team with the knowledge of someone who has lived this experience as a player. Heath scored three goals in eight games as part of the U-21 English National Team between 1981-1982. Like Turner, Redding, Estrela and Ramos, Heath was already a professional at a very young age, signing his first contract with Stoke City at 17.
“International soccer is very different than club soccer. Some people take to it, some people don’t.” explained Heath. “If you can get in there and show that you’re capable, with the right temperament, you’re a great professional, you’re a great teammate, all these things that go into making a great soccer player. If you show them and you play well, you’ve put yourself right in a great position, not only to be with the young team, but to grow with the selection as they grow.”
In January 1982, Heath was transferred to Everton, for a then club record fee of £750,000. He would become club’s most prolific scorer, amassing 18 goals in the 1983-84 season.
After six successful years with the Liverpool based team, Heath moved to Spain, where he did a stint with Espanyol. Back in England in 1989, Heath played for Aston Villa, Manchester City, Burnley and Sheffield United. After retiring from a long and successful career at age 36 in 1997, Heath took
advantage of the name he’d made for himself to spend 10 years developing his coaching skills through several English clubs.
Along the way, he rediscovered himself. "When I came to America, I had to start again. Nobody knew who I was, nobody knew my history and my playing career. It was like starting again”, said Heath. “But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I started falling in love again with coaching, which I like to do. It reinvigorated me."
Orlando City players recently called up to national teams:
Kevin Molino - Trinidad & Tobago National Team
Darwin Cerén - El Salvador National Team
Tyler Turner - U-20 USMNT
Tommy Redding - U-20 USMNT
Estrela - U-20 Portuguese National Team
Rafael Ramos - U-20 Portuguese National Team