With a renewed focus on offense, the Colorado Rapids hired Oscar Pareja as the team's new head coach in January. Pareja, a Colombian player with more than 18 years experience, has already taken steps to change the culture of the club that for years has remained seemingly distant from the growing Latino community in Colorado.
The Rapids recently signed Argentinean playmaker Martin Rivero and Colombian midfielder Jaime Castrillon with hopes of building a stylized, possession-first game. These players are also likely to "keep fans coming back for more," Pareja said.
The coach talked to Viva Colorado about his plans to reach out to the Latino community in the state and what philosophy will guide the Rapids in the future.
How have you dealt with the responsibilities that come with being a Major League Soccer coach?
OP: I am very happy to represent the Hispanic community in a club that has characterized itself by having a good relationship with different communities in the city, but I hope to further the plans to strengthen the relationship with our community. I think they [the Rapids] are anxious to develop this relationship. As a coach I think the task at hand is a prevailing challenge. We are ready, we are excited and can't wait for the season to start.
What is the new philosophy of the Colorado Rapids?
OP: The new philosophy is focused on having people really like the team. That the team exhibits a certain orientation toward craftiness, dodging the ball, the touch. We are going to accomplish this because we are going to work hard. How long is it going to take us? That is unknown, but I hope we can do it as quickly as possible.
With your experience in clubs like the Deportivo Medellin, Deportivo Cali and Dallas FC, what do you hope to share with Rapids players?
OP: For me, futbol is a way of life. As we live, we play. I am interested in giving the Colorado Rapids players the freedom to express themselves on the field. I don't want responsibility and discipline to bog them down when it comes to expressing their game because at the end of the day people come to see the players' freestyle.
What is the plan to develop an offense-driven team?
OP: This can be achieved in three ways. First, with money you can sign good players and maybe you don't have a great coach but you are going to have the best players and naturally you will have an offense-driven team. Second, with hard work, and third, with conviction.
How do you plan to reach out to Latinos who love soccer but don't follow the Rapids?
OP: I have preached this in the clubs I have been part of and at the club where I came from (FC Dallas). Latinos in the United States have the responsibility to pass on the love they have for their soccer team, be that America, Chivas, Nacional Colombia, River, Boca, to their children. Give him or her a Rapids jersey. There isn't another professional soccer team in the city.
In our countries we loved our local team when it played well, when it failed, when it won or lost. Regardless, on Sundays we watched the games. We wore our team's jersey and we gave our children the team's flag. We argued with our uncles and our cousins about which team was the best.
Give that heritage to your child. He does not have the opportunity to watch your country's team play. Give him or her the opportunity to feel that passion by watching the Rapids.
As a Latino coach of a professional soccer team in this country, what do you ask of other Latinos?
OP: I come from a place where the Hispanic community felt cut off from the professional team or somehow disconnected. I hope this connection to my community here is real, that I can give them what they have been waiting for for many years. I hope we can show this franchise that we are driven and capable of great things, but I need (Latinos) to help me.
The Colorado Rapids season opener against the Columbus Crew is March 10 at 4 p.m. at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. Altitude will televise the game and ESPN Deportes Radio (87.7 FM) will have coverage of the game in Spanish.