Li­ons seek sta­bil­ity af­ter fir­ing 3 coaches in past four sea­sons

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY - By Ju­lia Poe

Or­lando City will look to new coach Ós­car Pareja for an­swers as the club chases its first play­off berth.

Pareja was named Or­lando City’s head coach Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing linked to the club since James O’Con­nor was fired at the con­clu­sion of the 2019 sea­son. In their new coach, the Li­ons seek sta­bil­ity af­ter fir­ing three coaches dur­ing the past four sea­sons.

Pareja brings MLS cre­den­tials af­ter lead­ing FC Dal­las for five sea­sons, where he worked along­side Or­lando City ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of soc­cer op­er­a­tions Luiz Muzzi.

Af­ter O’Con­nor’s fir­ing, Muzzi ad­mit­ted that the coach wasn’t ever “his guy” — O’Con­nor was hired be­fore Muzzi came on with the club and the pair was never en­tirely on the same page.

In Oc­to­ber, Muzzi said he wanted to “bring [in] my guy where we have the same ideas and we share the con­cepts.” He found the ideal part­ner in Pareja, a coach with whom he has years of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Ós­car is the per­fect fit for the Or­lando City or­ga­ni­za­tion, some­thing I can say with con­fi­dence from our his­tory of work­ing to­gether,” Muzzi said in a news re­lease an­nounc­ing the hire. “He pos­sesses the tal­ent and pas­sion to help our club reach both its short­term goals on the field and longterm 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.”

Pareja most re­cently coached Club Ti­juana in Liga MX, qual­i­fy­ing the team for the play­offs in the Clausura but fail­ing to make the post­sea­son dur­ing the team’s most re­cent reg­u­lar sea­son. His team fin­ished No. 11 over­all with a 7-8-4 record.

Af­ter a year with the team, Pareja and the club parted ways on Nov. 25.

Prior to his ten­ure in Liga MX, Pareja, 51, spent 18 years with FC Dal­las, first as a player and then as an as­sis­tant and head coach. Pareja said the Li­ons caught his eye back in 2015, when he was still with FC Dal­las.

The coach watched Or­lando City’s first game and im­me­di­ately no­ticed the fans’ pas­sion. Af­ter sev­eral trips to Or­lando with FC Dal­las, he said that he wants to build on the en­ergy of the sup­port­ers to “put the team in the pro­tag­o­nist mode” as it pushes for a win­ning record and a play­off bid.

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

The new coach will be for­mally in­tro­duced dur­ing a news con­fer­ence on Thurs­day.

His ca­reer in Dal­las be­gan in 1998 when the club was named Dal­las Burn. He grew up in Colom­bia, ris­ing through the devel­op­ment academy at Atlético Na­cional and play­ing with In­de­pen­di­ente Medel­lín and De­portivo Cali in four sea­sons be­fore leav­ing for MLS.

As a cor­ner­stone of the

Dal­las mid­field, Pareja played in 189 reg­u­lar-sea­son games dur­ing his eight-year ca­reer with the team, net­ting 13 goals and adding 52 as­sists. He re­tired as a player in 2005, but he re­mained with the club as an as­sis­tant coach.

Af­ter spending two years as an as­sis­tant with his for­mer club, Pareja be­came an as­sis­tant coach at IMG Soc­cer Academy in 2007. He quickly re­turned to be­come the di­rec­tor and coach of the youth devel­op­ment sys­tem for FC Dal­las, earn­ing im­me­di­ate ac­co­lades as the U-18 Academy Coach of the Year af­ter the 2010-11 sea­son. Pareja then re­turned to an as­sis­tant-coach role for the 2011 sea­son while serv­ing as the head coch for the Dal­las re­serves team.

Pareja earned his first se­nior head coach­ing role in 2012 with the Colorado Rapids. He led the team to the play­offs in 2013, then re­signed to re­turn yet again to FC Dal­las, this time as the head coach. The coach re­peated his suc­cess in Dal­las, lead­ing the club to back-to-back play­off ap­pear­ances in his first two sea­sons.

Dur­ing his sec­ond sea­son, the team won the reg­u­lar-sea­son West­ern Con­fer­ence ti­tle and came in as run­ner-up for the Sup­port­ers Shield. Dur­ing his third sea­son, FC Dal­las won the Sup­port­ers Shield and the U.S. Open Cup. Af­ter five sea­sons with the club, Pareja fin­ished with a 97-55-50 record with FC Dal­las. Pareja left FC Dal­las af­ter the 2018 sea­son, sign­ing with Club Ti­juana in the Mex­i­can Liga MX.

Through­out his ten­ure in MLS, Pareja was noted as a man­ager who was ca­pa­ble of in­vest­ing longterm in clubs, bring­ing an acu­men for devel­op­ment from the youth side up to the se­nior lev­els. For an Or­lando City club that has seen three head coaches dur­ing the past four sea­sons, sta­bil­ity will be vi­tal as Muzzi looks to in­vest long-term in the cul­ture of the club.

The Li­ons have cy­cled through three coaches in four years — coach Adrian Heath was fired in July 2016, fol­lowed by Ja­son Kreis mid­way through 2018 and James O’Con­nor at the con­clu­sion of the 2019 sea­son. Or­lando City has yet to keep a coach for two full sea­sons since en­ter­ing MLS.

Af­ter the team fired O’Con­nor, Muzzi em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of the team’s next coach.

“I think that the one thing that’s not gonna hap­pen is that we’re gonna take a chance on a coach,” Muzzi told ProSoc­cerUSA in Oc­to­ber. “Who­ever is com­ing in is a coach that we al­ready know in terms of we know what this guy is gonna bring to the ta­ble. It’s not gonna be a gam­ble. We can’t af­ford that any­more.”

KEVIN JAIRAJ/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ós­car Pareja, who led FC Dal­las to mul­ti­ple play­off ap­pear­ances, was named Or­lando City’s new head coach.

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