Óscar Pareja as Orlando City’s next manager almost made too much sense. A coach who had achieved playoff berths at every stop in his career, who had built the most thriving academy system in Major League Soccer, and who had an established relationship with Orlando’s new brain trust? How could they not match up?
Well, as it turns out, they did. Pareja was announced Wednesday morning as Orlando City’s new head coach. The Colombian is a walking checklist for EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, who worked with Pareja developing a homegrown juggernaut at FC Dallas. The two worked to take Los Toros Tejanos to the top of MLS by building from the ground up—FCD’s academy has produced 26 Homegrown players, more than any other club in the league, almost all of whom were either brought into the academy or the first team by Pareja himself.
The results speak for themselves. Pareja’s Dallas teams were among the best in MLS, winning the 2016 Supporters Shield and coming second in 2015 on goal differential. His 78 wins in five seasons are the most in FC Dallas history. He took home additional silverware with the 2016 U.S. Open Cup and was named MLS Coach of the Year for his efforts.
Through all that success, Pareja developed many of his most important players in-house. Victor Ulloa was the club’s second-ever Homegrown signing in 2010, when Pareja was academy director. He made 144 MLS appearances for the club. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta played over 100 games and broke into the U.S. MNT under Pareja’s watch. The Colombian also produced goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, still first choice for the club, and developed draftees like Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman and Ryan Hollingshead into All-Star caliber players.
Two of the brightest prospects for the U.S. MNT are the latest success stories for Pareja and Muzzi in Dallas. Central midfielder Paxton Pomykal had a massive breakout season in 2019 after Pareja brought him up through the academy, making the All-Star team and cementing himself as a future first choice player for Gregg Berhalter. Right back Reggie Cannon, just 21 years old, looks like a potential starter down the line as well.
Pareja and Muzzi also showed a savvy eye for recruitment. Unable to bring in major stars due to Dallas’ limited budget, the two worked to find under the radar talents that could bolster their squad. Major contributors like Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo, Michael Barrios and Maxi Urruti were brought in under the two.
Other clubs and countries around the world have noticed what Pareja and Muzzi produced. Dallas sold Castillo to Turkey for more than $4 million in 2016. Diaz went to the Middle East for big money in 2018. American Homegrown defender Chris Richards now suits up for German giants Bayern Munich. Carlos Gruezo, Sebas Mendez’s midfield partner with Ecuador, broke out under Pareja and was shipped out to Augsburg in the Bundesliga for a reported $4.5 million. Acosta was traded to Colorado for a substantial haul of Allocation Money. Pomykal and Cannon are getting major interest from Europe.
All of this is to say that Pareja and Muzzi, as a partnership, have proven that they can bring an MLS club in line with the realities of the 21st Century soccer world. It can’t just be about signing the best guys or the biggest names. The club must orient itself towards success from top to bottom, using every avenue possible to win games now and set itself up for future prosperity.
Pareja will continue to build upon the groundwork that Muzzi has laid, bringing the entire organization together in the club’s new training complex in Osceola, from the youngest DA prospects up through the first team. Orlando City are in a position to create something special here, not just in the short-term (and oh by the way, Pareja can do that too—he quickly guided both Colorado and Tijuana to the playoffs), but also in the long-term.
Sometimes a perfect fit truly emerges. Orlando have taken it. Time to get to work.