FC Dallas midfielder Oscar Pareja has decided to hang up his boots after the 2005 season, putting them on the shelf alongside Colombian and South American championship trophies won in 1996.
But before he leaves the MLS stage as a player, Pareja still has one piece of unfinished business -- leading his club to a first MLS Cup.
Pareja has been in the league for eight years now and has yet to taste the fruit of victory of winning any honor. FC Dallas have plenty of motivating factors besides simply a first success in getting to the MLS Cup Final this year -- the championship game being played in their backyard at the new stadium in Frisco, the loss of newly-acquired Richard Mulrooney to a knee injury, and now news of Pareja's impending retirement.
"A guy who's put in a lot of work with Dallas and never really had a big successful season or anything like that -- a guy who deserves it, much like Mauricio Cienfuegos, who spent years with L.A. -- [Pareja] shows up and works everyday," said FC Dallas defender Greg Vanney.
"Mauricio finally got his championship and I feel the same about Oscar. If we can all come together and pull off a championship, that for him would be icing on the cake for his career if he could go out with a smile on his face. For us to win the championship would make his decision so much easier," Vanney said.
While Pareja has never won a title of any sort in his time in MLS, he's brought much more to the field -- especially in a league where a large number of the young U.S. players coming in each year also have to learn how to be professionals. Pareja has been a great role model in showing what it takes to succeed.
"With Oscar it's a case of what he does everyday. He works hard, helps the young kids and does all the little things very well," said FC Dallas head coach Colin Clarke. "That's a testament that he is still playing at his age (36)."
To watch Pareja is like watching a magic show with Houdini, exchanging the deck of cards for a ball. The skillful controlling midfielder has distributed passes to ex-Dallas Burn players such as MLS all-time goal scorer Jason Kreis, Brian Haynes (currently FCD assistant coach), Ariel Graziani, Ted Eck, Jorge Rodriguez and Toni Nhleko.
Pareja first came to MLS with the New England Revolution in 1998, playing about half a season there before being traded to Dallas for midfielder Leonel Alvarez. The Colombian has represented his country 11 times.
"He bought his style of play that he learned down there [South America] into our game and has been very successful. He is a great player for the league," said Vanney. "He is dangerous when he has the ball, not just for himself but more so for the players around him and putting other players around him in good position to score goals and things like that."
This season, Pareja has seen his playing time diminish slightly, first with the arrival of Mulrooney, as well as the Hoops' good form and Clarke's tactical scheme, which hasn't allowed much room for the veteran to bring his style of play to the field. He's made six appearances in the club's 12 games this season, two as a starter.
But FCD could have ample chances in the coming week to insert the Colombian in the lineup, playing three games in eight days and perhaps one of the biggest matches coming this Saturday -- a matchup of the two top teams in the Western Conference as the Hoops play host to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"We have a few injuries and we're banged up -- we have three games in eight days," said Clarke. "We will have to sit down and see where we are body-wise. I am sure Oscar will be a big part of what we do between now and the end of the season."
Regardless of playing time Pareja continues to give 100 percent in practice, staying physically fit while waiting for the nod from coach Clarke.
"You have to be ready all the time, the next five months I am going to put in my best effort. I have been doing this the past 20 years and I am not going to quit my last five months," said Pareja.
Said defender Bobby Rhine: "Obviously he is disappointed in not playing, but he still brings the same energy day in day out and sets and example for younger players. What he is showing them is how to be a good pro through thick and thin."
Currently, competing and finishing the season is the top priority for Pareja in FCD gear, but that doesn't rule out the fact that he might return to the team in a different capacity.
"I would love to stay in Dallas and work with our organization," said Pareja. Added Clarke: "We will have to sit down and look at it at the end of the season. I think we will just concentrate on the season and what's going on there and talk about it at the end of the season."
Still, the Hoops boss said there would be one nice parting gift to present to Pareja before he permanently hangs up his boots.
"Yes, this would be a nice retirement. He's never been [to MLS Cup]," said Clarke.
Ron Goode is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.