Luiz Muzzi has his man. Former FC Dallas manager Óscar Pareja has been named the fourth full-time head coach in Orlando City’s franchise history, following a month-long courtship. As The Mane Land first reported, Pareja emerged as the leading candidate for the Lions’ vacant head coaching position on Halloween and the way forward for today’s announcement took shape last Monday night when Tijuana of Liga MX parted ways with the coach after the Xolos finished three points out of a postseason position.
Pareja will be introduced to Orlando media at a Thursday morning press conference.
“Óscar is the perfect fit for the Orlando City organization, something I can say with confidence from our history of working together,” Orlando City SC EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in club press release. “He possesses the talent and passion to help our Club reach both its short term goals on the field and long-term plans for the organization. Óscar checked all the boxes we were looking to fill and his vision is aligned with the plans that we have as a club — to invest in and develop players at all levels of our pyramid to be both proud and successful when wearing the Orlando City crest.”
“I’m very excited to be returning to Major League Soccer and to be joining the Orlando City organization,” Pareja said in the club release. “The future of this club is extremely bright, with so many opportunities to grow and succeed at all levels of the club — from the new training facility to the world-class stadium and from the Development Academy all the way to the MLS side. Orlando is an incredible soccer city, with an especially passionate and dedicated fan base. I can’t wait to get started.”
Pareja succeeds Adrian Heath, Jason Kreis, and James O’Connor as the club’s head coach, bringing to Orlando a history of success in MLS and a willingness to play and develop young players — something that the Lions have not sufficiently done since joining Major League Soccer.
The 51-year-old Colombian has worked previously with Muzzi and Orlando City forward Tesho Akindele in Dallas and was widely considered to be among Orlando’s top targets after the firing of former coach O’Connor on Oct. 7. Shortly thereafter, TML learned that he was the focus of Orlando City’s search.
Pareja became the 10th coaching casualty for the Xolos 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 drew near a close, Pareja had Tijuana in the postseason qualification places with three matches remaining, but the club lost those three games, with one of them being a bitter and controversial 2-1 loss to second-place Leon in the finale.
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.
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 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.
By locking up Pareja now, the Lions can move forward with the off-season team building in full force.
Orlando City Coaching History (MLS Era)
Note: Orlando City advanced on penalties after all three USOC draws in the MLS era (2015 at Charleston Battery, 2018 at D.C. United, 2019 vs. New York City FC). These games are officially considered draws.
*MLS considers Bobby Murphy’s fourth game (a draw) in 2016 to count against Jason Kreis, although Kreis was not in the same city as the team that night. He had been named head coach just prior to the July 23 game at Columbus but did not serve on the bench for Orlando City until the July 27 friendly against Stoke City. Kreis’ first league game on the bench was July 31 vs. New England (a 3-1 win). We at The Mane Land do not count that Columbus draw on Kreis’ record since he wasn’t even there. You do you, MLS.