FRISCO, Texas -- Whenever I'm looking at storylines for an upcoming match, I always like to dig into the shared history between two teams. Which players on the other team used to play for us, which players on our team used to play for them, this coach or that technical director going up against his former club; it all helps build the anticipation leading up to the game.
But Oscar Pareja and Chivas USA head coach Wilmer Cabrera are more than just former teammates.
"We’ve known each other since we were 16," Pareja said of Cabrera after practice Thursday afternoon. "..through [Colombian] national teams, playing for different clubs and competing against each other, and then sharing the different cultural challenges in this country."
The two were teammates in the Colombian national team system and both played for the senior team throughout the 90's, but the friends also competed against each other often during that same timeframe in the Colombian first division.
Pareja started his career with Independiente Medellín in 1987 and was purchased by Deportivo Cali in 1995 before making the switch to Major League Soccer in 1998. During that same 10-year period Cabrera represented Independiente Santa Fe and América de Cali (Deportivo Cali's crosstown rivals).
After more than a decade of playing with and against each other on the field, Pareja and Cabrera continued to cross paths even after hanging up their boots and moving to a different continent.
Pareja retired from playing with FC Dallas in 2005 to become an assistant coach with the club, but when Cabrera was named U.S. U-17 head coach in 2007 Oscar joined his staff in Bradenton. But Pareja only spent a year in Florida before returning to Texas as Director of Player Development of FC Dallas Youth where he quickly established the program as one of the best in the nation.
His outstanding work with the FC Dallas Academy and Reserve team led to a head coaching opportunity with the Colorado Rapids in 2012, and Cabrera was one of the first named to Pareja's coaching staff in the Mile High City.
"I have a lot of respect for Wilmer; as a person, as a friend, as a coach and the experience he has in all his years of soccer," said Pareja. "We enjoyed our time while we were working together. I can’t say anything but the highest things about him."
Through two seasons in Colorado, Pareja and Cabrera helped lead the Rapids to an overall record of 25-30-13 and a quick turnaround with a young squad in 2013 that saw the club return to the playoffs. After a knockout round loss to Seattle, the offseason saw Cabrera tabbed as the next head coach of Chivas USA and Pareja return home to FC Dallas to replace longtime head coach Schellas Hyndman.
Both men have been tasked with helping their respective teams return to the postseason for the first time in years. They're off to remarkably similar 1-0-1 starts, featuring a pair of season-opening 3-2 wins and a couple of 1-1 draws in week two.
Now their paths cross again as the old friends prepare to match tactics in week three. But Pareja's quick to dismiss the idea that this match is about Oscar vs. Wilmer.
"This match belongs to the players on the field. Wilmer and I, we can’t do much to help them from the bench," said Pareja.
"We’ll just follow up with the program we want to install in our teams, give them the guidelines, but the game doesn’t belong to Wilmer and Oscar, the game belongs to the players. They are the stars."