COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Oscar Pareja doesn’t like talking about himself. The Colorado Rapids head coach looks down, speaks quietly and gets visibly flustered when faced with any questions regarding him directly.
Want to really make Pareja blush? Just ask him if he thinks about being a top candidate for MLS Coach of the Year.
“No,” was Pareja’s one-word response on Tuesday, piercing the ground with his eyes when asked if he had put any thought to being a candidate to the award.
He may not discuss it, but national media has.
During ESPN's broadcast of the New York-Seattle match last Sunday, commentator Taylor Twellman named Pareja as one of his top candidates for the year-end award. NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk's Steve Davis also listed Pareja as a top three candidate, Soccer America recently had Pareja as the top choice, and SoccerByIves also has Pareja as a top candidate. Other media have also expressed the same sentiment via social media, including Boston-based reporter Kyle McCarthy.
It’s been a season of pleasant surprise in suburban Denver as Pareja’s young squad has blossomed under the tutelage of the 45-year-old second-year skipper. Heading into Saturday’s crucial showdown against the Seattle Sounders at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (8 pm MT, BUY TICKETS), the Rapids have used a strong second half to sit in a tie for fourth in the Western Conference.
Pareja has leaned on a combination of previously unknown youngsters (the Rapids regularly start six first-year MLS players) and cast-off veterans to climb the table, leaving technical director Paul Bravo impressed.
Very, very, very impressed.
“We’d love Oscar to be around this club forever,” Bravo told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “That’s our hope.”
Bravo voluntarily offered the bombshell quote when asked about Pareja’s future as Rapids coach. It’s clear that after 21 months in charge, Pareja’s ways are clicking. He wants ego-less players to challenge for starting spots on a daily basis, and that tactic has paid off, digging up a group of motivated players every week. Pareja’s preferred brand of possession-first, attacking soccer is translating to goals. And his passion for the game – and his players – is rubbing off.
“The reason why made the decision to bring him in as the head coach is because we saw that he’s got the right idea, sticks to his beliefs,” Bravo said. “He’s bold when he needs to be, he’s learned to be maybe a little cautious at times, which is important as well. All of those elements that he’s starting to show are the things and the reasons we brought him in.”
But what is it about Pareja that truly sticks out? His car is always in the side lot at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. He’s an office rat, typically getting to the stadium at 7:30 in the morning and rarely leaving before 6:30 at night. He’s in on off days. At the end of some days, Rapids captain Drew Moor often jokes with Pareja to take it easy and get some rest.
“I obviously see it firsthand, the work that he puts in,” said Moor, who also played with and under Pareja at FC Dallas. “The work that he puts into it, [he’s the hardest-working coach] that I’ve ever played for, without a doubt.”
Those long hours, at least through the first 30 games of the Rapids’ season, appear to be paying off in the standings. And perhaps soon enough, they could also be reflected in the form of a trophy that makes Pareja blush.