SEATTLE — Colorado Rapids head coach Óscar Pareja faced reporters in the away locker room with red eyes after his team’s playoff run ended with a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday. He spoke of his pride in the way his team played all season.
It’s no surprise, then, that his response to rumors about him being in line for the FC Dallas coaching job was tepid.
“With all my respect … I’m the head coach of the Colorado Rapids today,” he said. “For the respect of my players and the effort that they put in today, it’s not a question that I will address.”
However, it is a question that had to be asked.
After 11 years playing in his native Colombia and with Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, Pareja found a home at FC Dallas (then called the Dallas Burn). He spent seven seasons there as a player, retiring to become the franchise’s academy director in 2005.
He turned the FC Dallas Academy into the best in MLS, churning out six Homegrown Player signings who made it to the first team, and was named the United States Soccer Development Academy Coach of the Year in 2009. Pareja was an assistant coach for the U.S. under-17 team in 2007-08.
So when Schellas Hyndman announced his resignation as FC Dallas head coach following a disappointing 2013 season two weeks ago, Pareja’s name was one of the first thrown around the rumor mill as a possible replacement. In two years, Pareja turned the Rapids into an MLS force with a young squad that includes Rookie of the Year candidates Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers.
“I’m proud of what the boys have done during this season,” he said after Wednesday’s loss. “I feel bad for them because I know they wanted to advance, but that’s the game.”
His hunger to succeed and his insistence on an attractive style of play make Pareja an attractive candidate. Unlike many coaches who receive opportunities at the top upon retirement, he worked his way up from being a youth coach to managing an MLS team.
“My philosophy is: I battle for every day, for every game,” he said. “I want to win every game, whether it’s in the season, whether it’s in the playoffs or the offseason, and that’s the way I feel. That’s the way I play the game. If you ask me today, I feel terrible. I’m not happy, obviously. I can see great things that happened in the season, but we are competitors here, and obviously, there is some bitter in this result. But as I say, we keep moving forward, and nothing else we can do.”
For now, Pareja will move forward as the Rapids’ head coach. After building up steam for two seasons, perhaps leaving at this point would create a sense of unfinished business that he does not want. But if Dallas — his first MLS employer, which gave him a shot and laid the foundation of his career — calls, sentimentality could prevail.