Frisco, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - FC Dallas comes into the 2014 MLS season in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
Dallas has entered its past five preseason tours with Schellas Hyndman at the helm, but that streak is set to end after the 62-year-old retired at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
But while there is a new head coach in Frisco, it is not an unfamiliar face.
Former FC Dallas midfielder and club legend Oscar Pareja was named Hyndman's replacement in January after the Colombian enjoyed two seasons in charge of the Colorado Rapids.
"I spent 14 years in Dallas and both the club and the Hunt family hold a special place in my heart," said Pareja upon his appointment. "While I am forever grateful to the Colorado Rapids for giving me my first head coaching job in MLS, my family and I have decided to take this opportunity to get back home to Texas. I believe we can build something really special in Dallas, and I am thankful for the opportunity, and thankful to the organization, its fans and ownership for believing in me."
While Pareja's record of 24-32-12 in his two seasons with Colorado does not seem impressive, it certainly does not tell the entire story. Colorado has worked on a very tight budget in recent years with little money to spend on strengthening a mediocre squad. That Pareja, a man with no prior coaching experience at the professional level, managed to win more than a third of his games in the very competitive Western Conference suggests that he even may have overachieved during his time with the Rapids.
But Pareja will not face the same constraints at FC Dallas. He has inherited a stronger squad filled with accomplished internationals, MLS veterans and promising up-and-comers, and his familiarity and close proximity to Latin America should allow him to strengthen the roster with cost-effective, yet quality, additions.
Pareja has wasted little time in accomplishing that objective as the club locked up Colombian striker Andres "Manga" Escobar on a loan deal from Dynamo Kiev. The arrival of the 22-year-old, who emerged from the same Deportivo Cali youth system as current FC Dallas striker Fabian Castillo, already has Fernando Clavijo, the FCD technical director, buzzing at the offensive potential for the coming season.
"Since I arrived on this team, this player's name has been followed by the previous regime ... somebody who was identified at the same time that Fabian Castillo was," Clavijo said in a conference call shortly after Escobar's arrival. "We came across an opportunity to bring him on loan and we're excited. We're excited he's in the team. He's going to be reunited with Castillo, a replacement for Jackson and he's going to make this team very aggressive going forward, very attractive."
FC Dallas also appears to be benefiting from Pareja's previous work in Colorado as the club made a shrewd move in the MLS SuperDraft by selecting promising striker Tesho Akindele with the sixth overall pick. Akindele comes to FC Dallas from the Colorado School of Mines, proving that Pareja did his scouting homework during his time with the Rapids.
Pareja even managed to strike a deal with his former club to acquire an experienced player in Hendry Thomas, a Honduran midfielder with 52 caps to his name.
Throw in a wealth of MLS veterans such as Jair Benitez, Eric Hassli, Adam Moffat, George John and Zach Loyd, as well some of the league's brightest stars in Matt Hedges, Bobby Warshaw and Andrew Jacobson, and there is plenty to like about FC Dallas in 2014.
ADDITIONS: Adam Moffat (M), Andres Escobar (F), Tesho Akindele (F), Hendry Thomas (M).
LOSSES: David Ferreira (M), Kenny Cooper (F), Jackson (M).
OUTLOOK: FC Dallas could play the role of the wild card in 2014. Outside of the traditional powers, the Western Conference is always difficult to predict. But hiring a head coach with a strong understanding of what FC Dallas is all about should bring a bit of passion to a club that faltered down the stretch last season. Pareja proved he could maneuver his way with a mediocre squad in Colorado, so he could thrive at Dallas. Still, FCD is a ways away from contending from MLS' top prizes, but a playoff appearance could be in the cards.