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 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.”
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. In an interview with the club on Wednesday, 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 still named Dallas Burn. He grew up playing in Colombia, rising through the development academy at Atlético Nacional and playing with Independiente Medellín and Deportivo Cali during 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 runners-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 long-term 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.”