Commentary: Óscar Pareja and Orlando City are a perfect match

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Courtesy of Orlando City SC 

Another year, another coach at the helm for Orlando City. This time, however, brings high hopes that this coaching hire will bring new fortunes to the club.

On Wednesday, the Lions announced former FC Dallas boss Óscar Pareja as the fourth head coach in club history, replacing James O’Connor, who was let go almost two months ago.

It’s been reported that Pareja was the only name on the list for EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, who spent years working with Pareja as part of the Dallas front office staff — years that saw Dallas win both a Supporters’ Shield trophy and the U.S. Open Cup tournament in 2016, as well as a near Shield victory in 2015, not to mention the many successful academy graduates that thrived in the Dallas first team under Pareja.

“I’m very excited to be returning to Major League Soccer and to be joining the Orlando City organization,” Pareja said in a 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.”

We’ve been hearing for years now that Orlando City is a club on the rise with serious potential, and while we all know that to be possible, this could finally be the time the club starts to moves on that upward projection.

More thoughts and observations on the signing 

It’s a perfect match

Orlando City has desperately needed stability, a winning culture, and a stronger youth development movement, and Pareja brings those things along with him.

It’s been no surprise since the first time he was linked to the job that Muzzi would be targeting him. From the day Muzzi was hired, there was a sense that he could look to bring in “his coach” at some point down the road, and that time came when Orlando City missed the playoffs and fired James O’Connor.

After the firing, Muzzi talked about how he could have made the change at head coach when he was hired at the end of the 2018 season but decided not to. Missing the playoffs with a roster good enough to qualify, at least according to Muzzi, was enough to justify firing O’Connor and making the move for his guy.

We may never know if Muzzi was planning all along that Pareja was going to be coaching in purple someday, but ultimately he made his plan and saw it reach the finish line — so props to that. Now the real work begins.

Pressure is on 

Speaking of that “this was a playoff team” comment, that puts the pressure on Pareja and Muzzi to succeed immediately this season with most of 2019’s starting core returning for another go next year. The Lions have the cap space and roster spots to do a serious re-working and strengthening of the lower half of the roster, crucial to any trophy success in MLS, but the short-term focus will surely be making the playoffs in 2020, regardless of how much tinkering and working Pareja might think needs to be done with the roster to get it among the elite teams in MLS.

The long-term goal is obviously much more complex in creating a culture, building a sustainable winner, and producing much more from the academy and USL side.

The Youth 

Pareja’s appointment is obviously exciting from the youth angle. Not every bit of Dallas’ success as a breeder club in MLS is because of Pareja, but he did play a big role in getting that club to where it’s at today. Pareja’s talking points mimic all of Muzzi’s — obviously part of what’s made him the ideal candidate — meaning that the youth front will have another pair of hands trying to push it forward.

That not only means good things for Orlando’s future Homegrown players, but it could lead to a promising future for someone already on the roster like Josue Colman. Pareja showed in Dallas that he can have a positive influence on young South American players and that could mean good things for Colman as he makes one more attempt to break into the lineup full-time as a Designated Player with Orlando.

What to look for 

Playing style is going to be very interesting to look for.

Muzzi and Pareja talk a lot about attacking soccer, but the roster still needs a lot of work on that front to take the step towards that. It probably won’t come together immediately this season, but as Pareja gets two or three transfer windows in, we’ll really begin to see the full potential of what his coaching can bring.

Off the bat, depending on what kind of players get brought in through the remainder of the offseason, he’s got enough to continue the 4-3-3 that James O’Connor used on-and-off throughout the season, but with a much higher focus on attacking. The Lions still have a good core of forwards with Dom Dwyer‘s potential still in there for now, but the midfield certainly needs a strong look as we head into preseason next month and eventually the start of the regular season in late-February. Time will tell, but it’s not hard so far to see the directions that he can take the club could go towards in 2020.


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