In 2010, when the Austin Aztecs became Orlando City Soccer Club, there was a core constituency that made the transition and Ian Fuller was among that small group.
It all started when Fuller was drafted in the second round, 21st overall, of the 2002 MLS SuperDraft out of Clemson University. He spent the 2002 season with the New England Revolution in MLS before moving to USL where he’d play the next decade with the Rochester Raging Rhinos, Vancouver Whitecaps, Charleston Battery, Austin Aztex, and Orlando City.
While Fuller loved playing the game, coaching was his ultimate goal. “My family all got into it (soccer) and my dad ended up being a college soccer coach on the outskirts of Portland for a women’s program there and I just always wanted to be a coach,” Fuller recalled recently. “I got my B license about 10 years ago and that’s when I really got interested in it.”
In late 2010, while playing for the Charleston Battery, Fuller was sent on loan in a move that would change his career forever. “I was playing in Charleston and Austin needed a player on loan,” the now 36-year-old and former forward said. “Our season had ended in Charleston and the Austin season was still going and they were fighting to push on to the playoffs. Adrian (Heath) happened to call the club in Charleston and I was happy to just learn from him. I was obviously going to play but he told me, ‘Listen, I know you want to get into coaching, even if you just come here to learn from me for the next two months.’ And I loved every second of it.”
Fuller used his time in Austin wisely, learning from the man he labels “a soccer genius.” Excited to coach but not ready to retire, Fuller had planned on returning to his team in Charleston for the 2011 season — Heath had other ideas.
“Austin was picking up and moving to Orlando and I got a phone call from Adrian asking if I wanted to be his assistant,” Fuller recounted. “And it was probably the best news I’d gotten in years.”
In the early days of Orlando City SC, Fuller had to wear many hats. “It was hands on, day-to-day, everything,” Fuller remembered fondly. “Back in the USL days, I was kind of the kit man and held water and got balls pumped up.”
After the transition to MLS Fuller now has a much more structured role. “Adrian built the staff specifically to do certain roles. It’s definitely helped us out with what we’re dealing with now,” Fuller said. “The good thing about having lots of staff and lots of competent staff is that we can focus on tactics. You can fine tune your craft.”
Fuller’s enthusiasm about coaching at the club has no doubt been influenced by the city of Orlando. “I knew there was something special going to happen in Orlando, from the moment we kicked off.” It’s a feeling that he hadn’t felt since his days as a kid in Portland. “Portland’s just a massive soccer town. I haven’t really seen it again until I came here.”
Orlando City’s rise to MLS has given several of Heath’s former players’ opportunities in coaching. Midfielders James O’Connor and Anthony Pulis are now head coaches in USL, and former club captain Rob Valentino will assist Pulis with Orlando City’s upcoming USL campaign.
For the time being, Fuller is happy where he is. “I loved the days working under Adrian as a player and coach and look forward to doing that as an assistant.”