I have always been a bit bugged by Nuggets fans that, years later, still vilify Carmelo Anthony. As their own team gets knocked out of the playoffs in the first round every year, they seem to be more interested watching the soap opera that is the Knicks fail, instead. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that some Nuggets fans were more interested in watching him fail than watching their team succeed. Melo certainly could have handled the whole ordeal that sent him to New York a little bit better, but in the end his leaving allowed the Nuggets to build the core team that has taken them to where they are now. (Shaw's underperforming team this year aside, they did win a record number of games last year and, like our Rapids, have a great young core in place.)
We seem to be in a similar situation now with the Rapids. A guy who we thought was going to take the franchise all the way to glory has deserted us, and in a manner that could only be described as 'icky'. (All right, it could be described several other ways, as well.) Could Oscar Pareja have handled his desire to go back to Dallas a lot better? Yes, absolutely. Would it have been far less messy had he simply turned down his contract extension and asked to leave at the end of next season, while privately telling FC Dallas that his plan would still bring him to Frisco? Sure.
That was never going to happen, though. Dan Hunt wanted his man, and he wanted him ASAP. No coach was going to take the Dallas job with the open secret floating around that Pareja was going to take over the job in 2015 regardless. Despite that, it was a mess right from the start when Dallas was rumored to be in the picture for Pareja's rights next season. And in the end, the rumors were true, Dallas got their man, and Pareja, we have to assume, was happy.
But there's no need to vilify the guy. I've seen all manner of anger posted by Rapids fans since the news was made official yesterday. There's talk of casting him to the flames as Judas when Dallas make their trip to Colorado in October of next season.
There's no need.
Like Melo and the Nuggets, Pareja didn't leave the Rapids in a bad situation by departing. In fact, he left them a chance to be better than ever. They got a large chunk of money from Dallas, along with a first-round pick in 2015 (one that the Rapids will sorely need if Danny Mwanga can't get any better in the next year). Pareja built one of the most talented, young teams in MLS in his two years, and it's a team that you have to believe will attract the attention of some decent head coaching candidates.
Look at last year's team, and imagine all the RapKids a year older, a year wiser. Whoever takes over the job will have Clint Irwin, Chris Klute, Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Gabriel Torres, Shane O'Neill, Charles Eloundou, and Martin Rivero (maybe) as starting-caliber players before even hitting the primes of their careers. They'll have some very intriguing younger players that struggled last season but have plenty of talent in Tony Cascio, Danny Mwanga, and Kamani Hill. And in guys like Hendry Thomas, Drew Moor, Vicente Sanchez, Edson Buddle and Brian Mullan, they'll have some of the most respected veteran talent in the league. Nearly every name there was brought in by Pareja -- over two years he molded a team that, regardless of coach, will be a favorite to make a run next season.
Pareja could have easily jumped ship after his awful first year; Dallas no doubt would have still taken him back. Hell, I had Dallas fans telling me amidst the #FirePareja hubbub of last year that we would be fools to simply let him go. I agreed with them at the time, and his second season proved that he certainly had the soccer mind to evolve into a great coach. Had he left after that first season, I imagine there would have been outcries of joy from some sectors of the fanbase. However, there would have been no great team for another coach to inherit. Had he appeased the fans by flying the coop in 2012, the team would effectively have been ruined. I doubt many an experienced coach would have taken a look at that bare-bones roster and flung themselves at the job. There's no guarantee that, even if that same roster of last year had come together somehow under a new coach, that coach would have had the touch with youth to help so many youngsters grow into their games so well at the same time. Criticisms aside, it's easy to overlook just what a miracle occurred in Commerce City with this young team under Pareja's tutelage.
Pareja leaving after 2012 would have been a trade-off: immediate joy for a bleak future. Here, we've got the opposite set up. I'll liken it to that awful 2-2 draw against Real Salt Lake that ended the 2010 regular season. We as fans were absolutely disgusted after that match; we had lost the Rocky Mountain Cup on what was essentially a fluke, after all. Of course, that draw gave the Rapids the favorable playoff draw that got them an easy route to the MLS Cup, and it's hard to look back on that result with quite so much disdain with that in mind.
It wasn't an ugly reason that sent Pareja away, either. Despite what many fans wanted to believe at first, it was never about the money. Colorado had offered him money. It was about homesickness, and that's something that you can't fix with money. I'm pretty sure everyone reading this blog right now thinks that Denver is a much better city than Dallas; it's hometown bias! But Dallas is where Pareja's family, friends and heart were after spending so much of his playing and coaching career with that team.
I sympathize with the man. I moved down to Tampa Bay last year, looking for a new start. I've gotten a wonderful job with wonderful co-workers, made plenty of great friends and generally enjoyed myself since moving down here. That hasn't stopped the sharp pangs of homesickness from hitting me right in the gut. If someone offered me the same type of job that I have right now, but in Denver, I would be lying if I said I wouldn't strongly consider it. I have friends out here, but my best ones are still in Denver. My family is in Denver. The teams that I've watched all my life (and written about for four years, in some cases!) are in Denver. Homesickness is a tough nut to crack and I can't get mad at Pareja for succumbing to it, because I've felt the same way.
If this were a situation where Pareja had put down the team, the fans and the state of Colorado on his way out (if we're still on the Melo analogies, this is where Pareja did way better than him!) I would understand a bit of hatred being thrown about. But he didn't. Prior to his leaving, he scarcely said a word about the ordeal, and never once blurted that he desired a move to the media. He then handled his exit with grace:
"I would like to thank the Rapids and KSE for this opportunity here in Colorado," said Pareja. "It was a difficult decision to leave the Rapids but the team is in good hands with Tim Hinchey, Paul Bravo, and all the staff. My family and I would like to give a special thanks to all the players and the fans for the good memories we will have from our two years in Colorado."
The Rapids just had a messy divorce. As with most messy divorces, emotions are to be expected. Getting your anger out of the way immediately can be good, and I don't begrudge anyone for speaking their mind with only hours passed since his departure became official. However, there's no need to artificially keep at a boil that which deserves no more than a simmer, all circumstances considered. I can hate FC Dallas, I can hate Oscar Pareja when we play them simply because he is the coach of FC Dallas, but I simply can't begrudge a man simply because he wanted to go home.