There's plenty new as FC Dallas heads into the 2005 season -- a new name, new logo, new uniforms and (coming soon) a new stadium. There's something else new: For the first time in three seasons, Oscar Pareja is healthy and fit.
Pareja says "this year I feel more physically fit then any other year" -- something which can only be a positive for FC Dallas coach Colin Clarke, especially as he now tries to work out who will provide the service to his suddenly lethal strike force of Eddie Johnson and Carlos Ruiz.
Retirement has been on the mind of the influential midfielder. But now he says, "I will take it step by step and year by year, but the day I wake up and feel I am not useful for the team anymore, that day I am going to quit.
"I would not like to move from here, I am happy with the city, with the environment of the team and the coaches. This is my home."
As Pareja zooms around practice like a spring chicken, it is obvious that this year is different then other years.
"The last couple of seasons I had to catch up with the guys," Pareja said. "I was struggling with fitness and injuries, but now I am ready to go, I think all the guys feel like that."
The Colombian midfielder caught the eyes of soccer scouts as he came up through the youth system of Athletico Nacional and began his professional career in 1987, when he made his debut with Independiente Medellin (where he played from 1987-1995).
He was then purchased by Deportivo Cali in 1995 and he immediately helped the team win a championship. Pareja stayed with the club for four years prior to joining the MLS and playing with New England Revolution. His stay there was brief before transferring to his current home FC Dallas. Pareja has also played for his national team, scoring three goals in 11 games.
Pareja's earned his nickname El Generalito (The Little General) for his command and control of the midfield, and describes his best asset to the game as "pasion." Practice is just like game time for the crafty midfielder.
Real Madrid and France international midfielder Zinedine Zidane is the general's favorite player because of the way he carries himself. "I like the way (Zidane) is on and off the field, he is a good person and that is how I like to be," Pareja said. "Even when we train and Oscar has the ball and he is playing against us, I say when Oscar has the ball we have to play different," said newly acquired defender Greg Vanney. "We have to pull in tight, we have to not allow spaces because he will slip those passes through.
The jury is still out as to how much playing time will be given to Pareja, but if he stays healthy his time on the pitch could be substantial. "He is creative, he is crafty, he is a guy you always have to keep an eye on and you always have to keep an eye on other guys when he is on the ball, because he will find those guys," said Vanney. "He is what you call a true No. 10, somebody who you know when he is on the ball everybody is in play and everybody is dangerous." With Pareja pulling the strings, the FC Dallas attack could suddenly begin to strike fear in the hearts of defenses around the league.
"I think he will get a lot of minutes and he will be helpful for us, I think he is our only guy that is really like that," Vanney said. "We have guys that are obviously good, but he is the one that is really crafty and a little bit tricky." The veteran Dallas defender also said Pareja's ability could change the way defenses play around the league -- and also the way that he will organize his own side's back four.
"I want to play a little bit higher line than you normally see in the MLS," he said. "I want to keep the line high to help the midfield close down the space, so they can get pressure on the ball so we can win balls in better spaces," helping to accentuate the pinpoint passing and accuracy of Pareja.
Ron Goode is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.