Welcome to Orlando, Óscar Pareja.
We are so glad to have you in the City Beautiful.
I have two pieces of advice for you now that you’ve been named the new head coach of Orlando City:
1. Rent instead of buy.
2. Win immediately.
If you don’t do the latter, you’ll be happy you did the former.
By the way, you are now immediately on the clock.
You have approximately a season-and-half to get Orlando City to the playoffs or we will be welcoming in your successor midway through the 2021 season.
If you detect cynicism in my voice, Coach Pareja, it is because we’ve seen this movie before.
As I wrote when your predecessor, James O’Connor, was fired back in August: “This has become like the classic movie Groundhog Day with Orlando City’s management team stuck in an endless time loop. The only thing missing from O’Connor being fired as CEO Alex Leitão waking up to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the clock radio and stepping into a slush-filled pothole on his walk to the office.”
Coach, I don’t want to seem overly dramatic, but you have a monumental job ahead of you. It’s up to you to save this franchise from itself. You must somehow, someway make us care about Orlando City like we once did. You must make us fall in love all over again with the franchise that five years ago was the darling of this community and lauded by MLS as a model for expansion franchises.
You should have seen how this town used to be painted purple. You should have been there that day a half-decade ago when more than 62,000 fans jubilantly piled into the Citrus Bowl for Orlando City’s first match; when Kaká sent those fans home in a state of euphoria after his free kick in the 91st minute of that match clinched a 1-1 draw with fellow expansion franchise NYCFC. It was one of the most transcendent moments in Central Florida sports history.
Here we are, five years, four coaches, multiple roster rebuilds, countless crappy contracts and no playoff appearances later, and it’s up to you Coach Pareja to restore the purple passion and pride we used to have in our MLS franchise. Orlando City games were once the cool place to be, but fan apathy and empty seats are becoming more and more prevalent.
Coach Pareja, the supporters here deserve better than the product ownership has given them. Isn’t it sad that best team we’ve ever had here was during the inaugural season? Most expansion franchises get better; Orlando City has mostly gotten progressively worse. The Lions finished seventh in the conference the first year, eighth the second year, then 10th, 11th and 11th.
The very first coach, the beloved Adrian Heath, was fired after a year-and-a-half. And then Jason Kreis was fired after a year-and-a-half. And then O’Connor was fired after a year-and-a-half. Coach Pareja, here’s hoping ownership will give you the time and resources you need to succeed.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually believe owner Flávio Augusto da Silva and CEO Alex Leitão have learned their lesson about meddling in coaching and personnel decisions. They must know by now that their franchise is in the abyss and the only way out is by hiring experienced, competent soccer people, giving them every tool and resource they need to win and then, most important, getting out of the way.
I compare Orlando City to the Orlando Magic when Magic CEO Alex Martins fired novice former GM Rob Hennigan and brought in the reputable Jeff Weltman to become the president of basketball operations. Likewise, Orlando City fired inexperienced former GM Niki Budalic a year ago and brought in the experienced Luiz Muzzi to be the executive vice president of soccer operations.
It’s been known for weeks that Muzzi’s master plan was to bring you in, Coach Pareja. You worked with him at FC Dallas, where you finished with a 97-55-50 record and made the playoffs in four of your five seasons. It was in the Big D where you gained the reputation for doing more with less and winning games by developing young talent instead of spending money on exorbitant contracts.
Coach Pareja, I must say your résumé is very impressive. You have extensive MLS experience as a player and a coach. You’ve been to the playoffs. In Dallas, you won the U.S. Open Cup and the Supporter’s Shield in the same season.
Can you have similar success here in Orlando?
We’re not asking you to win any MLS Cups anytime soon.
We’re not even asking you to compete with the big spenders like Atlanta United FC, NYCFC and LAFC.
All we’re asking is for you to make this franchise relevant and respectable.
All we’re asking is for you to get the Lions to the playoffs – just once!
All we’re asking is for you to make us fall in love with Orlando City again.
Email me at email@example.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.