Dillon Powers remembers with a chuckle the first time he met Oscar Pareja.
He was young, maybe 11 or 12 years old, and participating in the television pilot of a youth soccer training show outside of Dallas with other standout players his age.
Powers, whose father Mike played with the Dallas Sidekicks in the MISL indoor league for 15 years, was just discovering his love of the game. The Colombian international Pareja was an MLS All-Star with the Dallas Burn, trying to teach the young kids in the community the correct way to strike a ball.
“It’s funny because his English wasn’t great, and he was trying to explain, ‘You you kick the ball like this,’ and us kids just kept smiling at each other,” Powers remembered. “He sure doesn’t have any trouble getting his point across these days."
Fast-forward a decade, and Powers and Pareja have been reunited, this time as player and coach in Colorado.
“He never told me about that,” said Pareja when informed about their meeting years ago. “We always had a great time trying to get information to kids in the community. It’s something I enjoyed a lot. This sure makes me feel a little older, though.”
GOAL: Dillon Powers laser to the corner
Pareja may feel a bit older, but there is little doubt that Powers has learned to put his laces through the ball. A couple of weeks ago in a draw against Portland, the rookie central midfielder scored a Goal of the Week nominee — a 25-yard screamer into the top corner that swerved away from helpless Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
Pareja has long had his eye on Powers. It began when he first heard that Mike Powers’ boy was coming up through academy teams in Dallas. If Dillon was anything like his father, a stalwart in the local soccer community, the kid was worth paying attention to, reasoned Pareja.
A few years later, Powers played in the 2009 U-20 World Cup in Egypt, and one of Pareja’s current assistants at Colorado worked with the team.
“He’s just the type of player I like. He’s got that character that combines discipline and technique,” said Pareja of the Notre Dame graduate. “I actually don't think he had a great combine, which was great for us. But I knew the talent he has. International competition always gives a different pedigree to players.”
No matter how much Pareja likes the rookie’s game, few expected the impact that the 11th overall pick in the SuperDraft would have so early into his pro career. Powers has made seven starts in seven games, all in center midfield, scoring one goal and playing a number of savvy, forward-thinking passes that have led to scoring opportunities. Obviously, his decision-making and decisiveness in the final third have room for improvement, but the tools are apparent.
The biggest recipient of Powers’ passing? Striker, fellow rookie standout and roommate Deshorn Brown.
GOAL: Deshorn Brown opens his MLS account
Together, Powers and Brown epitomize Pareja’s approach to compiling an MLS lineup: cultivate emerging young talent and get them into the fold.
Few coaches in the league have embraced that commitment as much as Pareja in his two years in charge of Colorado.
“This country has grown so much as a soccer culture in my years here,” said Pareja, who coached the FC Dallas Academy team prior to his current role in Colorado. Along with Powers and Brown, sophomore Tony Cascio and another youngster, Homegrown Player Shane O’Neill, also see major minutes.
“I’m a firm believer in that talent and like to provide players an opportunity,” Pareja continued. “There may be a price to pay in the short-term but when I see young guys score their first goal in MLS, and see these guys achieving their dreams, it’s worth the risk. I know that in the long term the results will come.”
Those results may not be as far away as Pareja implied. After a winless start to the season, Colorado has taken points in three of its last four games, most recently securing back-to-back 1-0 results, first against Real Salt Lake and then at early pace-setters Chivas USA.
The only goal of last Saturday’s win in Los Angeles came when Brown drew a penalty while stepping around a defender after being played into the box by Powers. He picked himself up off the ground and finished what he started, coolly depositing the spot kick inside the left post.
The Rapids’ recent success has much to do with Powers and Brown, who between them have scored half of Colorado’s goals this season. The two have become fast friends on and off the field in what may emerge as one of the league’s more dynamic partnerships in the near future.
PK GOAL: Brown converts from the spot
Brown has been a pleasure to watch, constantly working the channels and making runs behind opposing defenses. And he’s not afraid to take his chances, either.
With 28 shots in seven games, he led all of MLS in that category heading into Wednesday night. Obviously he has the support of the Rapids' more established players, as they let him take the penalty he earned.
“The two of them are just great,” said Brian Mullan, the team’s 34-year old left back, who spent his entire career in midfield before Pareja moved him into the new position this season. “Deshorn’s a pure athlete. I can’t stand having to run after him all day in practice. He could have five or six goals already. And when they start going in, that’s when the confidence soars and even greater things happen.
“Dillon continually amazes me. He has experience beyond his age. The way he turns, the way he knows where people are on the field is exceptional. When you get older and young guys like them come into the fold, you are just happy to still be on the field.”