When Minnesota United hired Adrian Heath before its first MLS season in 2017, the new head coach’s development of goal scorers was a main bullet point on his résumé.
With Orlando City, Heath received (and sought) credit for helping Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin become top scorers. In Orlando’s first MLS season in 2015, Larin scored a rookie-record 17 goals, and last October, he continued to praise Heath.
“He really helped me develop, taught me a lot,” Larin told MLSsoccer.com. “… He was very important my first two years, coaching me, learning in training, movements and all that.”
But after two years in Minnesota, Heath now has a gap on his résumé. No attacking United players have produced an increase in goals scored under Heath; this includes young players similar to Larin as well as older, more established players Heath either inherited or acquired from other clubs.
That includes top producers such as Christian Ramirez, Angelo Rodriguez and Darwin Quintero, as well as Miguel Ibarra, Sam Nicholson and Romario Ibarra. Plus, short-timers like Johan Venegas, Alexi Gomez and Bashkim Kadrii and projects such as Abu Danladi and Mason Toye.
This entangles Heath, but how much falls in varying shades of gray.
With a club-high 14 goals in 2017, Ramirez was averaging a goal per 170 minutes in the jump from the lower-level NASL. But in 2018, his output dipped to one goal per 197 minutes, and he was traded to Los Angeles FC.
When Rodriguez replaced Ramirez last August, the transfer from Colombian club Tolima scored a goal per 217 minutes in 2018. That number is down to one goal per 269 minutes this season.
Quintero was Minnesota’s first high-priced Designated Player last April, and he led the way with 11 goals (and 15 assists) in 2018, one goal per 217 minutes; that is down to one per 223 this year. And this year’s output is arguably inflated artificially; four of his five goals have come on penalty kicks.
For Rodriguez and Quintero, this snapshot comes during huge droughts. Quintero hasn’t scored in the past nine games, Rodriguez in the past seven.
After a 1-0 loss to the then-last-place Colorado Rapids on Saturday, Heath pointed at the players for what he saw as their lack of desire to score.
“We can’t buy a goal at the moment,” he said Monday. “I just think that we need a break. At the weekend, I don’t think we did enough to get ourselves a break. I think we had 20 crosses in the second half of the game alone. That is an awful lot of crosses for us to not make a clear-cut chance of them. It’s disappointing.”
But what can Heath do to stop the dire stretch?
“There is a lot of things that you can do, whether it be Monday to Friday on the training field, keep going over what you know is the right thing, going over best practice,” he said Monday. “But more importantly, trying to keep the guys believing that they are doing the right thing.”
One strategy Heath used recently is showing his players highlights of them scoring goals.
“They are not doing a lot different when they were scoring goals,” Heath said. It’s “just basically trying to fill them with some confidence, because I know what it’s like. It’s never easy when you are at the sharp end of the team and you’re not scoring goals, people ultimately look at the people up there.”
Heath and United have been looking for reinforcements in the summer transfer window from July 7 to Aug. 7. But they’ve recycled before without quality results.
Nicholson joined Minnesota in July 2017 and had one goal in 639 minutes in that abbreviated season. In 2018, he had one goal in 526 minutes before being traded to Colorado last May.
On loan from a club in Peru, Gomez didn’t score in 1,322 minutes a year ago.
The Loons received Ethan Finlay in a trade with Columbus in 2017. He had a goal per 326 minutes in his first season in Minnesota, and one per 285 before a serious knee injury last April. In working his way back to full strength, he has one goal in 811 minutes this season.
Besides Rodriguez, Minnesota added Romario Ibarra in the summer of 2018. He averaged one goal per 90 minutes last year, then one per 190 this season before being loaned to Pachuca of Mexico’s Liga MX. The club said this was based on the Ecuadorian not acclimating to life in the U.S.
Kevin Molino bridges the gap between Heath’s stints in Orlando and Minnesota. In Orlando, Molino averaged a goal per 210 minutes in 2016, and midway through the season Heath was fired.
Now in Minnesota, Molino scored once per 358 minutes in 2017 and one per 70 in 2018 before a serious knee injury last March. Now working his was back, he has one goal in 169 minutes this season.
For younger players, Heath acknowledged “it’s been a little bit slow” in developing Danladi, a third-year forward/winger, and second-year forward Toye.
“The frustrating thing is with Abu has been the lack of availability,” Heath said. “He gets himself right and then we can’t do enough work with him on the training ground.”
After playing 26 minutes as a sub Saturday, Danladi was out of training Monday and Tuesday, and he will miss Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match against Kansas City at Allianz Field.
While injuries fall outside a coach’s control, Danladi’s persistent hamstring issues were an issue before the 2017 draft. But Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos believed they could be overcome and used the first overall pick to take him.
In 2017, Danladi scored eight goals and finished second in MLS rookie of the year voting. He averaged one goal per 173 minutes, but that dipped to one in 483 minutes last year. The 23-year-old now has one goal in 464 minutes this season.
At age 20, Toye is more of a project. The seventh pick in the 2018 draft didn’t score in 340 minutes last season. This year, he has played only 26 minutes with Minnesota. He was the last Loons player on the field Tuesday, trying like all of them, to find the back of the net.