Oscar Pareja was formally introduced as Orlando City head coach to a crowd of assembled media on Thursday morning, but El Generalito has had the Lions on his mind for much longer.
“I saw five years ago, on TV, the first home game,” Pareja said during his introductory press conference. “That was tremendous and created an impression of how the community is here, and I won’t forget that. After I came here twice to play against Orlando, what I found was a group of fans [who were] very involved with the team, and that’s exciting… hopefully, we can give them a lot of joy.”
Pareja will have the ability to do just that, as he re-teams with Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi to re-shape the Lions ahead of the 2020 campaign. Pareja and Muzzi worked together for half a decade at FC Dallas, bringing the Texas club a U.S. Open Cup trophy and a Supporters’ Shield - given to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record - in 2016 while reaching the postseason four times in five tries.
Dallas became a playoff constant not by bringing in the biggest names, but by developing a pipeline of talent from within that could constantly re-stock the cupboard. Both men see an opportunity to follow a similar strategy in Orlando.
“I think that we have a lot of talent in the area,” said Muzzi. “There’s a lot of kids playing the game here, and this is Central Florida, you can play year-round. And I’ve been saying that we trust the talent that we have here, and we have to develop this talent. It’s part of our mission here. [It] should be that we’re connected to the kids playing here, the families living here, and it’s something that we believe, and I think that Oscar coming in facilitates that, because he has the same values.”
“The basic experience that I’ve had in this country since I started playing here in 1998 was having that vision of believing in the American player,” Pareja said. “[They need] an environment where they can grow, they can develop, they can feel that they’re part of a program, who have an ultimate goal of playing professional. And when I see Orlando, with that potential, that inspired me. And to be honest, I would like to be part of that, developing players in Orlando, and see Homegrowns growing here as well.”
That’s not to say the two won’t look outside the organization for talent. Pareja was clear that he is looking to sign multiple reinforcements with Orlando City’s wealth of 2020 cap space. But the new manager won’t just sign anyone.
“I would like to bring the right player,” he said. “Not any, and not just because he’s a good player. I would like to identify the correct player. He needs to be part of this community, this franchise, this team, and this model of playing. So we would like to be wise there.”
Pareja also commended the current foundation in place. Of the 19 players currently under contract with Orlando City, 14 were acquired by Muzzi’s regime.
“I believe in this roster,” said Pareja. “And Orlando, despite the frustration that the fans have on not making the playoffs, when you review the season, you see a lot of good things. And I did my homework, and I saw that. So I believe in the roster that was put in place here. I hope that this refresh can help, and we can keep using and developing what [my predecessors] have done.”
What emerged most clearly from the press conference was a sense of aligned vision. Orlando’s new head coach matches perfectly with the philosophy of Muzzi’s front office. Next up—three months to build out the roster before the season opener against Real Salt Lake on February 29.