With his team in first place, it might be hard to believe, but Oscar Pareja’s job is getting more challenging by the day.
In each of the last three games during the club’s current five-game winning streak, Pareja has utilized the same Starting XI yielding an identical result, another "W" in the standings. The stretch has shown the emergence of David Texeira on top of the formation, as well as the continued growth of Michael Barrios, Victor Ulloa and Kellyn Acosta in the midfield – with Acosta scoring the first two MLS goals of his career in successive games. Midfielders-turned-defenders Ryan Hollingshead and Atiba Harris have also thrived in the outside back positions. Pareja even praised the depth coming off the bench late in games with Tesho Akindele and Rolando Escobar.
“The coaching staff is doing a great job preparing the guys who are in [the lineup],” Pareja said. “The hours they spend with these players on and off the field are remarkable, and that’s not very noticeable [from the outside], but at the end the product is there with players.”
Now, with the CONCACAF Gold Cup complete, two of the team’s mainstays early on in the season – forward Blas Perez and defender Je-Vaughn Watson – are set to re-join FCD this week. Coupled with the newly-acquired defender Bakary Soumare and midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano, the competition at each position in the FC Dallas lineup is bigger than ever.
“We always say that [it’s a nice problem to have],” Pareja said. “When you have them all available, like they are now, and everybody’s healthy, and everyone is performing and getting their looks, I think the benefit is the group for sure. We all have no problem with it, and they know that.”
“What is coach going to do when Blas and Je-Vaughn come back?” Ulloa said laughing. “I guess that’s a good problem for him to have. We knew what kind of players we have. We knew that guys were going to step up and we’ve shown it. While they’ve been gone, we’ve been winning and they’ll just come in and help even more.”
For Pareja, the growth of his young players in recent weeks has set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Now I'm seeing a combination of that young energy and spirit that you see in the field with some maturity that we are getting into the games. The boys are certainly growing,” he said. “That makes us feel better and make us feel like we can get a good run.”