The Mane Land has learned that former FC Dallas and current Club Tijuana manager Óscar Pareja has emerged as the leading candidate for Orlando City’s vacant head coaching position and is the club’s top target.
The 51-year-old Colombian has worked previously with OCSC Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi and forward Tesho Akindele in Dallas and was widely considered to be among Orlando’s top targets after the firing of former coach James O’Connor on Oct. 7.
Pareja is still under contract with Los Xolos of Liga MX, so an agreement would need to be reached with that club unless it parts ways with the coach — and the Xolos have gone through nine managers in seven years. He left FC Dallas in November of 2018 to make the move to Tijuana. Pareja took over late during the 2018-2019 Torneo Apertura, but the Xolos finished out that season with Frankie Oviedo as the caretaker coach. Pareja’s first season at the helm with Tijuana was in the 2019 Torneo Clausura, in which his side finished eighth with a record of 9-7-1 to qualify for the postseason Liguilla. Tijuana then lost in the quarterfinals to top seed Leon by a 5-2 aggregate.
As the 2019-2020 Torneo Clausura draws near a close, Pareja has Tijuana in the postseason qualification places with three matches remaining. Tijuana is currently in seventh place with a 7-5-3 record. The top eight clubs reach the Liguilla.
Pareja led FC Dallas to a record of 97-50-55 in 202 matches in all competitions in five seasons from 2014-2018. His Dallas teams reached the postseason in four of his five seasons at the helm — finishing fourth or better in the conference each time they made the playoffs. They won the 2016 Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup and were the 2015 Shield runners-up due to losing a tiebreaker. He was 2-4-4 in playoff matches, advancing on penalties after one of those draws and getting eliminated by the away-goals rule after another. Pareja also led his team to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League in 2017.
Prior to joining the Hoops, Pareja spent two seasons with the Colorado Rapids, where he went 25-31-13 in 69 matches. The Rapids did not make the playoffs in Pareja’s first season of 2012, going 11-19-4, but finished fifth in the West in 2013 before losing to Seattle in the knockout stage of the playoffs. You may recall that Orlando City’s USL side knocked Pareja’s Colorado side out of the U.S. Open Cup that season. You might also recall that Pareja’s team knocked the Tampa Bay Rowdies out of the USOC in 2012 before bowing out to Sporting Kansas City.
As a player, Pareja spent 1987-1995 with Independiente Medellin in his native Colombia as a midfielder, appearing in 263 matches and scoring 18 goals. He moved to Deportivo Cali, where he scored 11 more goals in 122 games from 1995-1998 and then joined the New England Revolution, appearing in 13 games that year. He finished his playing career with FC Dallas, scoring 13 goals in 170 appearances from 1998-2005. He also earned 11 caps from 1991 to 1996 with Colombia’s national team, scoring three goals.
Pareja has a great pedigree, a good working knowledge of MLS, and has been successful at reaching the playoffs and winning some trophies. He has a history working with Muzzi and Akindele in Dallas and is well respected. This hire, if Orlando City can come to terms with both Pareja and Tijuana, would seem to be a wise one.
Muzzi has stated he wants an offensive coach and Pareja’s Dallas teams scored 48 goals or more in each of his five seasons there and netted more than 50 in four of his five seasons. Orlando has only topped the 48-goal mark once, when the Lions scored 55 goals in 2016. Pareja is also known as a coach who is willing to play and develop promising young players, which also aligns with Muzzi’s vision. He’s sort of a no-brainer choice but it remains to be seen if Orlando can pull it off.
We will continue to monitor the Orlando City coaching story as it develops.