Orlando City plan to harness youth potential under new coach Oscar Pareja

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the end of the calendar year draws closer, Orlando City’s offseason work is just beginning.

On Wednesday the club announced their fourth head coach in club history in former MLS Coach of the Year Oscar Pareja. Following Thursday's press conference introducing him and outlining the plans moving forward, the new man in charge, along with EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, will get down to business.

Perhaps it's not a surprise Muzzi and Pareja have crossed paths again in MLS. Muzzi was the assistant technical director for FC Dallas for six seasons and brought a lot of ideas from his former club to Orlando when it comes to youth development, with an emphasis on stocking the squad with players from the academy. Pareja had helped build Dallas' academy into one of the best in MLS before beginning his pro head coaching career, and the duo worked together at Dallas 2014-18, leading the academy and first team alike to an unprecedented high point at the club to date.

Now in Orlando, they'll look to replicate that formula for the Lions.

“I've been saying this from day one when I got here. I think that we have a lot of talent in the area,” Muzzi said. “There's a lot of kids playing the game here, and this is central Florida, you can play year-round. We trust the talent that we have here, and we have to develop this talent.

"Part of our mission here should be that we're connected to the kids playing here, the families living here, and it's something that we believe, and I think that Oscar coming in facilitates that because he has the same values," he added. "So, I think for us it's extremely positive to have somebody here who shares the same values.”

Now with Pareja installed as the head of the first team, the job begins again of building a squad that can help Orlando make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in their history. With just three Homegrown players on the team’s roster right now, both Muzzi and Pareja would like to increase that number, having more players from the academy play bigger roles for the team as they continue to build to the 2020 season.

Orlando’s academy started back in February of 2012, during their days in the USL. Since then, the club have developed a robust youth academy, headed by former Arsenal and Millwall midfielder Paul Shaw. They also have their U.S. Soccer Development Academy program for elite teenage players, headed by former New England Revolution and US U-20 assistant coach Marcelo Neveleff.

In 2019, Orlando played their reserve side, Orlando City B, in USL League One, with a squad made up of mostly academy products to help prepare them for the professional game.

With all of that already established, it was a no-brainer for Pareja to come to Orlando and help build on what they have already created. 

“When I see Orlando with that potential that inspired me and to be honest, I would like to be part of that,” Pareja said, “Developing players in Orlando, and see the grounds growing here, as well as what happened in Dallas or in any other MLS team and many other clubs are doing it very well. I think Orlando is doing it well because you have Benji [Michel], you have [Santiago] Patiño, you have that people who have been part of this culture, and that's fantastic. Why not just be the city that can keep growing in that area? I'm inspired to come here because that's one of the things that we have done before.”