FRISCO, Texas---During his time as a player for FC Dallas, Oscar Pareja was nothing short of a fan favorite. The talented and amiable Colombian finally hung his spikes up after the 2005 season but spent the next few years as an assistant coach with FCD. He then left to become an assistant coach for the US Under-17 National Team. “Papi” quickly returned to head up the FCD Juniors program, which is where he has been ever since. MLSsoccer.com recently caught up with him for a few questions.
How has the experience of leading the FCD Juniors program gone thus far?
Pareja: It has been a great experience first of all, trying to get the information I have collected from my time in Columbia and playing in Major League Soccer. I tried to combine those two experiences and use that to help develop players. That’s probably my major role, to give them all that information that they can take advantage of.
Several of your teams are participating in Dallas Cup. How much does being involved in that event mean to your program?
Pareja: It’s just a great tournament. It’s a very prestigious tournament. For the boys and the organization, it’s very important. We are trying to develop a feeling with our boys for what it means to represent FC Dallas in the community. The Dallas Cup is going to be a huge opportunity to do this. Everyone is excited about the tournament, especially with our U-18s being in the Super Group.
One of your players, Bryan Leyva, has trained extensively with FC Dallas this spring and also played in some preseason games, where he has performed well. Discuss him.
Pareja: I have known Bryan for many years. I remember him coming to practice when I was playing. He was very young. His skill and technique caught my eye. I had no doubt that he was one of those gifted guys that would be able to make it. He has not made it just yet and there is still a long journey ahead for Bryan but he is definitely doing a great job. He has been in the national team for Mexico and was able to go to the World Cup in that last tournament. It was fantastic for him and also for FC Dallas. I think he has all the talent, the quality and the character to do it and make it. It’s going to take a little while. Being with a professional team every day, practicing with them, talking with people who have a lot of experience and also being around Schellas (Hyndman), who helps him out a lot, I think it’s great.
Another of your players, Ruben Luna, has also spent time with FCD this preseason and has scored several goals. Talk about his progress.
Pareja: Ruben is a natural striker. He is one of those players that is always thinking about scoring goals. That’s his priority and that’s how he plays the game. He’s a natural. He has played very well in the last two years with the Juniors. More recently, he’s been training, playing and being treated more as a professional (with the first team). I like him a lot and can see him taking big steps forward. Now practicing with a professional team in preseason, it’s been a great experience for him and I have no doubt that he will get to that next level. He’s a very natural striker, very strong. He’s gifted. He scores goals and is a guy that is always around the box. That’s very difficult to find.
Who are some names FCD fans can look for in the same vein as Leyva and Luna?
Pareja: I think we have a few players that have been called to the national team’s camp. Those guys get more training and experience when they go abroad or to the camps and being with the national team. Some of them are younger but they still have a lot of talent. I have no doubt those guys will be able to develop in the same way. Some names I can say are Victor Ulloa, Moises Hernandez, who has been with (Thomas) Rongen in the U-20s. Samuel Coleman has been with the U-16s. Jonathan Top also did a great job when called into the national team. Daniel Garcia is another player to watch. In general, the boys are doing very well. Those are a few names we have who can compete for the next level.