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After Wednesday's disheartening 5-1 loss at Los Angeles F.C. stretched his team's winless streak to seven games, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath was asked about the dwindling chances of his team reaching MLS Cup playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.

"If we don't do it, it will be a huge disappointment," he said. "And I'll take full responsibility for that. We'll go again."

His team will. He won't.

The only head coach Minnesota United has ever had in MLS, Heath was fired and replaced on Friday by interim coach Sean McAuley with two regular-season games left.

Hired in November 2016 and now 62, Heath was the only Western Conference coach who led his team to the playoffs each of the last four seasons — a fact he mentioned quite often and proudly.

Now 12th in the Western Conference, the Loons have a 91% chance of missing the ninth and final playoff spot, according to The playoffs expanded from seven teams in each conference to nine this year, and yet the Loons are still on track to miss.

Minnesota United CEO Shari Ballard said the decision wasn't about Wednesday's "bad defeat" or late regular-season swoons the last two years. Nor was it made to defy the long odds and still get the team into the playoffs again.

"It felt like the performance has been plateauing a bit the last couple years," Ballard said. "We've had some really positive stuff and some things that are hard. As we went through the year, we continued to go in the wrong direction. Once you know that's what you're going to do, you just move forward and that's what we did."

The Loons also fired technical director Mark Watson, but assistant coach Ian Fuller and goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr will remain in their current roles through season's end.

Managing partner Dr. Bill McGuire told Heath about the firing in person after the team returned home from Los Angeles late Thursday afternoon.

Ballard did the same with Watson. She also called team captains Michael Boxall and Wil Trapp and the team's assistants to inform them as well. Ballard met with players and staff Friday morning.

Bottom falls out

A star scorer with English first-division team Everton in the 1980s, Heath came to America to coach a USL expansion team in Austin, Texas in 2008 and never left. He coached Orlando City into MLS in 2015 before heading to Minnesota before the Loons' inaugural MLS season in 2017.

He was given more power to shape the roster with player personnel decisions when Watson was promoted to technical director after the 2019 season.

The Loons reached the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final against Atlanta and advanced to the quarterfinals of the first midseason Leagues Cup tournament this year. But they also needed a Decision Day home victory over Vancouver to clinch a playoff spot last season after they went 0-5-2 down the stretch.

This season, they haven't won since a 3-0 home victory over Colorado on Aug. 30. They are three points and two other teams behind ninth-place Dallas for the final playoff spot.

They've also won six road games — second only to Real Salt Lake and Orlando — but are just 3-4-9 at home in Allianz Field, which had largely been a fortress since it opened in 2019.

The Loons are 9-12-11 overall and 0-4-3 in their last seven games. They have two games remaining, Saturday at home against LA Galaxy and Oct. 21 at Sporting Kansas City.

Ballard praised Heath and his wife Jane for the last seven seasons, saying their contributions are more important than "the way the story ends."

"Adrian and Jane have meant a lot to the club," Ballard said. "What they've done to help us in the formative years of the club to grow to where we have, we'll be forever grateful for that."

Before last season, the club and Heath negotiated a new two-year contract extension through 2024, but it wasn't announced until June 2022. Some club supporters questioned the timing during a 1-5-1 slump.

In Heath's seven seasons, the Loons went 91-101-56 in all competitions.

McAuley's chance

Ballard said it's too early to talk about a new coach and whether the club will hire both a general manager and coach after Heath essentially did both jobs.

"It's my job to make sure we have a good search process and that we have the right candidates and right people as we move forward," she said.

Minnesota United interim coach Sean McAuley
Minnesota United interim coach Sean McAuley

Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune

Brought to Minnesota by Heath, McAuley is in his fifth season after he was an assistant for two seasons in Orlando City and six in Portland. He has twice been an interim head coach, both times with Sheffield Wednesday back home in England.

"You're thrown into something that obviously needs some kind of change," McAuley said. "We've got to adapt small changes because it's a small window. We've got to hope the small changes have an impact to make a big change in terms of a result.

"We need to bounce back. We have a lot to play for."

He met with players before Friday's training and told them about the MLS Cup he won with Portland in 2015.

"Last day of the season, with 16 minutes to go in the game, we were outside the playoffs," McAuley said. "And then things changed in those last 16 minutes. Before you know it, we're on a roll. You never know where it can lead you."