The addition of Oscar Pareja makes U-17 coaching staff heavy on experience.
That Colombian Oscar Pareja has settled in the United States, and is now the U.S. U-17 boys national team assistant coach, has much to do with what his 4-year-old daughter, Salome, said one morning four years ago.
"That day we were at the breakfast table," said Pareja, who was in the middle his eight-season stint as an FC Dallas midfielder. "I said to them, like I used to a lot: 'Someday we're going to be back in Colombia, and I'll be back on my farm with my cows and horses and everything.
"Then Salome said, 'Daddy, I'm not going to move back to Colombia. This my country and I'm going to live here.' I turned to my wife, Sandra, and said, 'I guess we're not the ones deciding.'"
After the 2005 MLS season, Pareja, who had been coaching youth ball and helping out with the North Texas ODP program, moved into an assistant coaching position with FC Dallas. In November, Wilmer Cabrera, who was appointed U.S. U-17 national team head coach, offered Pareja an assistant coaching position.
In December, the 39-year-old Pareja was on the bench at the Nike Friendlies when the new era for the U-17s opened with 2-0 wins over Russia and Brazil.
"It was a wonderful start," Pareja said. "But to be honest, we cannot take much credit for that. Wilmer was there for only four weeks, and I was there for two weeks. The credit goes to the coaches who were there before us."
Cabrera had replaced John Hackworth, who coached the U-17s at the last two U-17 World Cups and headed the Bradenton Residency Program since November of 2004. Hackworth is now the Development Academy Director and an assistant coach to U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
Of the four previous U-17 assistant coaches, only one remains on Cabrera's staff: Brian Maisonneuve.
Maisonneuve, 34, arrived after an eight-year MLS career with the Columbus Crew. He also earned 13 U.S. caps and played all three games at the 1998 World Cup.
The third assistant coach is Ireland native Paul Caffrey, the former coach at Suffolk County Community College in New York. Caffrey played for the USL's Long Island Rough Riders and served as an assistant coach when Cabrera played for them after arriving from Colombia in 2003.
The new goalkeeper coach is 33-year-old Paul Grafer. He spent five seasons in MLS with Colorado and the MetroStars, and also played for the Rough Riders.
Cabrera and Pareja were teammates on Colombia's 1987 U-20 World Cup team, which won the U-20 South American Championship to give Colombia its first continental soccer title.
Pareja started his pro career in 1987 with Independiente Medellín and stayed with the club for eight years. The central midfielder moved to Deportivo Cali in 1995 and helped it win 1996 title.
In 1998, Pareja came to MLS and after two months with New England was traded to Dallas. Soon after he arrived, Pareja had doubts that he could stay in the USA for long.
"You have to speak English to live here," Pareja said. "I turned on the radio and TV and couldn't understand anything. I thought I couldn't make it."
But Pareja began taking English grammar books on his road trips and studied on planes and in hotel rooms. He took classes and became fluent. Two of his three children, Salome, now 8, and Diego, 7, were born in the USA. Maria Jose, 10, was born in Colombia.
In MLS, Pareja had 13 goals and 52 assists in 189 games, and appeared in 17 playoff games (5 assists).
Pareja and Cabrera had been roommates while with the U-20s and the Colombian national team. They always played for rival clubs but maintained a friendship.
"I wanted him as part of my staff," said Cabrera, "not because he's my friend, but because he was a great player, he's a great coach, has a huge heart and passion and knowledge for the game.
"At every club he played at, Oscar became captain or one of the team leaders. He's a natural leader. And he will challenge my ideas and my positions at every step of the way. Which is what I want, because that's how good decisions are made."
(This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)