Oscar Pareja knows that Sunday night’s game at FC Dallas (8:30 pm EST, FOX35 Plus) won’t be just another game for him.
Pareja spent the better part of two decades in Frisco, TX, first as a player from 1998-2005, then as an academy director and assistant from 2008-11, and finally as the head coach from 2014-18, a reign in which he brought home a Supporters’ Shield and a U.S. Open Cup. This will be his first time back in Dallas since departing the club for Tijuana at the end of the 2018 season.
“I’m coming [back] to a place where I spent most of my life and my career as a player and coach, and also to a place where my kids were born and the place where I have such great ties with friends and family and the community and the Club and even the players there,” said Pareja at his weekly press conference on Friday. “It is special, but at the end of the day it’s a game that just comes as the next one. I’m trying to prepare and do the same as we have done, but the reality is that it’s special to get back to Dallas and face FC Dallas of course.”
Neither Pareja nor FC Dallas have skipped a beat since parting ways. Pareja took Tijuana to the playoffs in his first season last spring and has turned Orlando City into one of MLS’s best teams, with the Lions sitting second in the East on a seven-game unbeaten streak. Dallas, meanwhile, snuck into the playoffs on Decision Day in their first year under Luchi Gonzalez and look poised to return this season, sitting fourth in the West.
“Dallas is a very good team in the [Western] Conference for sure, one of the best,” Pareja said. “I think they have fantastic footballers there and it’s a great organization with fantastic coaching too...they have many reasons to think they are one of the best in the West.”
Dallas have been led by DPs Franco Jara and Santiago Mosquera, who have tallied nine goals combined over the club’s last six games. Orlando have spread the wealth, with seven different goalscorers in their seven-game unbeaten streak. Benji Michel has tallied four during the run, while Chris Mueller has scored three times.
Pareja’s philosophy of “protagonism” has seen Orlando consistently get out on the front foot, with halftime leads in each of their last six matches. He sees no reason to do it differently on Sunday, even with personal emotions a bit higher than normal.
“We’ll be preparing our game as always,” Pareja said. “I have a lot of confidence in our team and have a lot of confidence as well when we’re going away, always trying to keep our identity and keep the same ideas that we have been preaching along the line and we’ll try to do the same.”