Oscar Pareja was always going to leave FC Dallas, someday. I just wasn’t prepared for it to be now. My thinking has always been when he did leave the Huntsmen for his next challenge it would either be because he had achieved success or because he had come to realize he never could.
Looks like the latter got here first.
It is official. The man, who is the heart and soul of North Texas’ MLS affiliate, has decided he needed a new challenge. For a club that has featured a world name like Hugo Sanchez, the iconic look of Leonel Alvarez, the American MLS legend of Jason Kreis – and even the heartbreaking story of Bobby Rhine, make no mistake about it, Oscar Pareja is the “Face of the Club”. He is the connective tissue between the wild west, shoe-string Dallas Burn of yesterday and the highly organized, internationally noted FC Dallas machine of today.
It’s so easy to knock FCD as an underachiever. It is the butt of MLS attendance humor. It’s possible by Dec 8th, it will be one of only two remaining MLS’ ten founding members to have not won MLS Cup. If you can push past all that, FC Dallas is near the top in wins, points and is a leader in the important process of growing young soccer talent. Few programs in this country can compare, and for that, you have Oscar Pareja to thank.
Pareja had every right to go find his next challenge but it contrasts with the black clay loyalty that flows through the man’s veins. I’m not sure the average fan understands simply how much FC Dallas means to Pareja, or consider that his decision arguably speaks more about the Hunt’s modus operandi than it does his professional ambitions. Brad Pitt also once dumped Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie. While people said, “Hey, it’s Angelina, who can blame him?” Maybe what was not considered at the time were the difficulties and frustrations of being in a relationship with Jennifer.
Pareja never once publically questioned the spending methods of his bosses. In fact, he was frustratingly supportive. In one on one conversations while that good soldier act remained, it was far more obvious he was a frustrated chef – one asked to cook up a 5-star meal, using ingredients from Sam’s Club.
Oscar Pareja did not fail as coach. He was a gosh darned wizard and my guess is we’re about to find out what Papi accomplished was a repetitive masterclass in building teams that punched above their weight, by multiple classes. It would come as no surprise to find out Clark and Dan Hunt are in a quasi-panic-mode.
The brothers’ single greatest act was to money whip the Colorado Rapids into selling Pareja back to them. The pair had tried to make their conservative roster building/business model work with Mike Jeffries, Colin Clarke and Steve Morrow. After that, it was their handpicked friend Schellas Hyndman, and it almost worked, once, in the very different era of MLS 2010. The Hunts don’t use the power of their wallet often, so when they do it’s because they know the value of what they’re getting in return.
In Pareja, they got the best of all their worlds. A man who’d constructed and launched their academy system – which was already churning out talent (Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta) and making them money (Richard Sanchez, Alejandro Zendejas). He himself was the up and coming stateside coaching talent, and most importantly, he not only gave 100% support to the Hunt’s way of doing business, Pareja sincerely believed he could win a championship doing it.
As five seasons passed, each ending in their own variation of disappointment, Pareja clearly had grown tired of factors he could not control.
Inbound, Pareja made his roster needs clear. Topping that list for the better part of his tenure was a real #9, the lack of which was the source of almost all his tactical gremlins. For reasons of unwillingness, inability or both, those responsible could never deliver Oscar his man.
Outbound, the July transfer window and the predatory nature of agents had particularly become his personal nemesis. The club’s greatest strength – growing talent – had become its Achilles heel. For three straight campaigns, smack dab in the middle of the season Pareja’s best players were distracted by the lifted skirt of other soccer opportunities. Fabian Castillo literally ran away, Maxi Urruti and Michael Barrios turned sour, Mauro Diaz just wanted to cash a fat check and Kellyn Acosta just needed to get out, a new start, away from the things that bothered him but he could not control (oh, the irony).
Where the Hunts go from here is The Great Mystery. Based on history and merit, it will likely be someone already inside the club. Marco Ferruzzi or Luchi Gonzalez. With names like Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter, in theory, at their choosing – going with the ‘behind the curtain, in-house’ option is not going to be a publicity winner. A solid case can be made for either Marco or Luchi, but what nobody knows is, can either also make lemonade from lemons?
I won’t mince words, I am concerned about the future of FC Dallas. For as wonky as the off the field issues are, on the field, Pareja was the one legitimate reason to invest time in the club. Oscar’s skillset of pressing the very most out of mid-level talent remains one of the great under appreciated achievements in the Dallas sports scene.
How attractive is this gig to coaches from the outside? Half full stadiums, little to no transfer fee budget, assumably an expectation to maximize the homegrown talent, especially with the launch of the USL2 “Little Huntsmen” team. It is hard to see why an established manager would want to pick up a project Pareja decided was maxed out. Someone will want to, but that person’s qualifications and intentions will be in question.
Clark and Dan Hunt have to make the right hire and do it soon. I do not know who that is, but it doesn’t take an expert to see the wrong hire quickly puts this thing into a Colorado, San Jose or Houston-like spin, especially if the Hunts choose to stay the course on their ‘bottom line first’ way of running an MLS franchise.
If there’s a hopeful silver lining, it is the one where the Hunts realize their best ever business decision, made one of his own.
“You don’t always know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” For reasons of ambition, frustration or both, Papi is gone and we’re all about to find out exactly what that means.