Commentary

Oscar Pareja on style of play, and how U.S. Soccer and MLS can make the USA a World Cup contender

Oscar Pareja, head coach of MLS Western Conference leader FC Dallas, arrived in the USA from his native Colombia in 1998 during MLS's first wave of signing Latin American stars. After playing eight seasons in MLS, Pareja served two years as FC Dallas assistant coach before a stint as U-17 U.S. national team assistant coach. He returned to FC Dallas in 2008 and became its Director of Player Development, after which FC Dallas took the lead in MLS Homegrown signings.

He is currently in his seventh year as an MLS head coach. In a recent interview, Landon Donovan listed Pareja among the qualified candidates for USA head coach.

SOCCER AMERICA: Newly appointed U.S. men's national team manager Earnie Stewart has been charged with hiring a new head coach and instilling and supervising a style of play vision. What do you think the U.S. style of play should be?

OSCAR PAREJA: I believe that our way of life is directly connected to the game. Players have a style of life in this country that has to be recognized, valued and expressed on the soccer field without yearning for other styles or ways. It will reflect the evolution of soccer in America throughout the years.

The willingness to compete, the energy, the individualism combined with the teamwork, the discipline combined with the freedom, the pragmatism, the desire for progress, the creativity, the diversity, are some of the most remarkable characteristics of this society. These characteristics are fundamental in our style of play and will drive soccer players in this country to be better than others.

The ”eclectic way,” in which we continue to evolve, is incredible in this country and makes us unique. That is the spirit of the American soccer player. That conviction will dictate, naturally, the evolution of the national team. Coaches and players who embrace and understand the American way of life.

Pareja, whose playmaking skills earned him the nickname El Generalito, helped Colombia win the 1987 U-20 South American Championship - the nation's first continental title. He made his professional debut with Independiente Medellin at age 19, became the team's captain at age 20, and earned 11 caps with full national team. After moving to Deportivo Cali, he helped it win its first Colombian league title in more than two decades. Pareja started youth coaching near the end of his playing career with FC Dallas while helping out with the North Texas ODP.

SA: Beyond the choice of who should be the head coach, what do you think U.S. Soccer should or could do to improve American soccer? And by improve, let's define that as producing world-class players and being a serious contender to win the World Cup.

OSCAR PAREJA: I think every country has its own values and cultural habits that make each of them unique. The U.S. needs someone who can develop and bring out the American identity, not try to replicate that of another country. There has to be someone who can outline a plan of international competition needed to guide us back to the World Cup. We need to improve the identification of the real talent in the youth programs, keep improving the coaching preparation in all the levels, improve the connection between MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation.

We need to find an efficiency in the training with a method that can get players to respond and make them find solutions to the difficulties that the game brings them. Finally, we need to get the academy programs more competitive and bring the passion out of the players who simply love playing the game.

SA: The USA failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup unleashed avalanche of criticism toward U.S. Soccer. In what areas do you think the Federation is on the right track?

OSCAR PAREJA: Academy programs are advancing across the country. Education programs are more diverse and will bring more creativity in coaching methods.

The U-20s and U-17s are producing good international results and are bringing quality players up through the system.

The friendly games are very meaningful after the failure of missing the World Cup and I see us looking within ourselves to find the answers to the issues, which is a positive step forward.

SA: What can MLS do to help the progress of the U.S. national team?

OSCAR PAREJA: First, there need to be more Homegrown signings to the rosters. From there, I think you can establish a rule for game-day rosters, having a certain number of players under-24, -20 or -17 playing.

There has to be a focus to involve more domestic players into the roster. And lastly, the time off during the offseason has to be reduced. We all, as players, coaches, MLS and U.S. Soccer need to commit with more time on the training ground and more competition, which will continue to improve our level of play.

SA: What can be improved in American youth soccer that can help the USA become a world soccer power?

OSCAR PAREJA: I recognize and admire the talent and character of the American player. Our boys are very good and I’m confident they can compete against any team in the world, but that has to be supported with work on the field. Earning the possibility of competing in any league and any team, and also earning the right to be part of the national team programs.

The character, determination and passion for this game has to be brought into the fields, but we need to combine it with the capacity to think, make decisions and have the personality to create without the fear of mistakes.

SA: Anything else you'd like to add or address?

OSCAR PAREJA: In soccer, this country has a potential that other countries found and succeed with: diversity! What at many times can divide us can also make us very strong on the field.

FURTHER READING:
Tony Meola on the USA style of play quest, youth national team success, and young Americans going abroad
Todd Beane: The USA has an opportunity to astound the world with a new brand of soccer
Andres Cantor on the U.S. national teams of the past, the next coach and countries U.S. should (or shouldn't) emulate
Ian Barker on a U.S. style of play, producing No. 10s, and coaching schools in the USA
Hugo Perez on style of play: 'The USA has the players to play possession-oriented, offensive soccer'
Landon Donovan on a U.S. style of play, what worked in the past, and who should coach the USA
Nico Romeijn and Ryan Mooney on U.S. Soccer coaching education: the Federation's intentions and its capabilities and capacity

13 comments about "Oscar Pareja on style of play, and how U.S. Soccer and MLS can make the USA a World Cup contender".
  1. Tony Biscaia, October 10, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    Oscar is one of the most intelligent and honest people you will ever meet

  2. frank schoon, October 10, 2018 at 9:36 a.m.

    Sorry, very dissapointing, I thought the interview earlier with Landon Donovan was bad, in which LD basically stated nothing, but this one is even worse. Oscar came up with nothing but Cliches, no particular insights or nuggets whereby one could say, "interesting, good points". For example, asked about what the US style should be ,his answer"Players have a style of life in this country that has to be recognized, valued and expressed on the soccer field without yearning for other styles or ways......Blah, Blah".
    Or how 'bout this beauty , the individualism combined with the teamwork, the discipline combined with the freedom, the pragmatism, the desire for progress, the creativity, the diversity, are some of the most remarkable characteristics of this society".. 
    Man, this guy should become part of the USSF coaching school staff. He is the perfect example of what Wiel Coerver once described the Dutch KNVB coaching staff, as "paper poopers, types who can talk soccer to a potted plant" and have nothing substantial to contribute or say.
    Another question was "How to improve US soccer?" , Oscar replied" I think every country has its own values and cultural habits that make each of them unique. The U.S. needs someone who can develop and bring out the American identity, not try to replicate that of another country."   I mean WOW what deep insights....
    Maybe it is me, since I've beginning to get a little cynical in light of the process of choosing a MNT coach...I'm just getting tired of the BS!!

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, October 10, 2018 at 11:19 a.m.

    Consider the timing of this interview with a potential job candidate. Of course he isn't going to say anything controversial. It is only human nature.

  4. frank schoon replied, October 10, 2018 at 11:49 a.m.

    Bob, Controversial? There is nothing wrong by stating something specific that can be improved or worked upon.We've had other interviewers who have given certain opinions about soccer, but if he's so worried about PC than I don't think I like him as a coach. I prefer a coach with a backbone , if that is the case...

  5. Ric Fonseca, October 10, 2018 at 3:11 p.m.

    Bob & Frank:  Oh woe are we, at first I thought perhaps we'd read something more innovative, sadly and unfortunately, as I read on all I could think of is almost exactly as Bob states above: it is nothing short of the usual "good ole boy network and party-line" "politically correct" yada-yada-yada and pronouncements.  Saludos amigos!  

  6. Right Winger, October 10, 2018 at 5:19 p.m.

    Honestly gentlemen I can't believe I read what I read.  The only way you improve things is to take a new approach combine success with the new ideas try it , improve it and then go with it.  We just keep beating a dead horse.

  7. uffe gustafsson, October 10, 2018 at 5:20 p.m.

    Frank think you only read what you wanted to read.
    for example he talked about home grown players and the inclusion of them into mls as well have the younger players on every team playing. Think Mexico have those rules.
    the other part was DA teams traveling to far to play other DA teams. Think he also talked about diversity be an important part of both youth and national teams. Those are important part of our soccer geography to bring in players from all part of our nation.

  8. frank schoon replied, October 10, 2018 at 6:51 p.m.

    Uffe, that we need to add more home grown players is self-evident, and of course this was said almost 50 years ago when the NASL was in existence. The point is WHY do we continually bring this up because our players are not developing properly  .This is why we continue bringing even 2nd and 3rd tier type of players from Central and South America...There is something wrong in how we develop our players and that aspect is something Oscar doesn't cover which to me is the elephant in the room.  Diversity has nothing to do with good player development .  Diversity is only a side issue. Even if you have total Diversity, without good program of player development it is meaningless...
    Oscar's suggestions are so general and minimal as far as solutions the problem 

  9. beautiful game replied, October 11, 2018 at 10:09 a.m.

    Uffe G; your soccer "geography" and other repeated small talk is the typical smokescreen argument. It completely misses the point that it's the USSF philosophy & system that is a cancer to the USMNT.

  10. R2 Dad, October 11, 2018 at 1:01 a.m.

    Given the small amount of column-inches available, I'm not surprised he talks in generalities. Is anyone really going to open up about deficiencies and areas of improvement in this format? Maybe in the final interview for the USMNT job...
    It seems to me that improving speed of play and speed of thought, and focusing on retaining possession past the centerline should be starting points. If you have players that can't do this, switch players until you can find people that can. Find a midfield that works on keeping the ball, regardless if they are all 5'-6" hispanics that aren't speedsters. Otherwise, just announce for the next 4 cycles we are a counterattacking country, line up all your speedsters and 18 yard box bangers and have at it on set pieces. Maybe we'll get bored of qualifying out of the group stage for 16 more years and will be ready for something else at that point. But all this navel-gazing is just too much.

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, October 12, 2018 at 8:13 a.m.

    "Is anyone really going to open up...?" Did you read the Hugo Perez interview?  https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/75354/hugo-perez-its-time-for-the-usa-to-embrace-creat.html

    Perez was outspoken, and USSF ostracized him. He is the example of why others are afraid to speak out. The powers that control USSF don't want change.

  12. R2 Dad replied, October 12, 2018 at 1:15 p.m.

    Yeah, Hugo is a baws, he could say this in public now because US Soccer has already shunted him years ago....

  13. beautiful game, October 11, 2018 at 10:03 a.m.

    Always liked Pareja as a player and coach. But in this interview, he lacked substance. I'd rather listen to a rocking boat response in order to evaluate the merits of his convictions. Too many of you bloggers are sucked in on the usual rountable talk of MLS, Hispanic integration, etc. 

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