Orlando City went and did it. The Lions assembled their list of potential coaches, went hard after the top name on their list, and today made that hiring official. But what do we really know about Oscar Pareja outside of his history of successful seasons in Major League Soccer?
Let’s start with the soccer basics, is there a particular shape and tactical style that Pareja prefers to use or is everything tailored to the opponent?
Ben Lyon: In an ideal world, Oscar Pareja is a 4-3-3 guy who enjoys bombing down the wings with overlapping backs. I think it is fair to say none of his previous coaching stops allowed for him to put what he would consider his ideal on the field in any particular game (although he would never let you know that). He primarily relied on a 4-2-3-1 in his Colorado and Dallas days, and I would not be surprised if that’s how he rolled in his first season in Orlando. Tactically, Papi has been consistently pragmatic with his game plans at previous stops, preferring a lower block in most road games and a more front foot style at home, but he definitely showed a penchant for tweaking that based on the opponent. To contrast him with Luchi Gonzalez, Pareja was way more likely to play with five in the back at the start or to start with two strikers. He’s pretty flexible at the end of the day.
Is Pareja’s reputation for playing younger guys overblown or skewed by the good academy system Dallas has or does he really like to play the kids early?
BL: It might be a little skewed; the academy has produced a plethora of talent. Then again, a lot of those guys ended up washing out pretty early with limited minutes. Probably the best case that it isn’t just all about raw talent when it comes to placing blind faith in the youth is Victor Ulloa. Victor had actually run out of contract from his Homegrown deal and looked increasingly like his pro days would be cut short before Pareja returned to Dallas from Colorado. Papi brought him back in to trial, coached him up to a new contract, and eventually he became a regular on some very good teams before his later incarnation as expansion team building block. Vic earned all of that, but it’s hard to say that Pareja’s belief in him at a young age didn’t play a large part in that.
What did you see as Pareja’s strengths and weaknesses as a coach during his time with FC Dallas?
BL: Aside from getting a lot out of youth players, Oscar has a real evangelical quality about him that the fans and players love. He did an absolutely phenomenal job of connecting the organization from top to bottom, and he’s had an absolutely wild track record of turning erstwhile midfielders and attackers (eg, Atiba Harris, Je-Vaughn Watson, and Ryan Hollingshead) into decent to good outside backs. He also has a proven track record of molding unproven South American talent into elite players. Guys like Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo both made Best XI and earned the club transfer fees. Michael Barrios has to be the most underrated player in the league. There’s probably a couple of players on Orlando that will seemingly come out of nowhere to impress you this year.
As for weaknesses, he can be a little stubborn in his approach sometimes, perhaps not rotating his players enough. There have been quite a few times it seemed he packed in to a defensive shell too early although it’s mostly hard to argue with the results. There’s really not much not to like. He had a good run in Colorado, a great run in Dallas, and even though his time at Xolos wasn’t an unqualified success, 52 points from 35 games in Tijuana is nothing to sneeze at. You can expect immediate results for the Lions this year. The folks in Dallas will be interested to see how far he goes off the bat with a second team and deeper pockets at his disposal. You’re going to love this guy.
Big thanks to Ben for sharing his thoughts on Orlando City’s new gaffer.