Since FC Dallas hired him as head coach prior to the 2014 season, Oscar Pareja has had an interesting history when it comes to his captains. Pareja, now in his third season coaching FCD, has named two captains for the team… Matt Hedges, who is entering his third season in Major League Soccer, and veteran mid-fielder Andrew Jacobson as his co-captains.
Pareja did so with the stipulation that if Jacobson didn’t play, then Hedges would wear the armband. After playing 13 games for FC Dallas in 2014 and starting in five of those, Pareja traded Jacobson or “AJ” to the New York City FC, an expansion team who wasn’t beginning play until 2015.
Hedges has been FCD’s full-time captain ever since, but when the solid center back has missed time due to injury, Pareja has used several players in a fill-in role.
This season those players have included offensive playmakers Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, FCD’s captain for two games and Wylie native Victor Ulloa, who has worn the armband four times.
Hedges returned to full training after a seven-game absence due to knee surgery in late May, and Pareja, a finalist for 2015 MLS Coach of the Year, plans on continuing to have Hedges wear the armband for a majority of those games even though several of his teammates could also be captain on an occasional basis. It’s an outside-the-box approach he explained in basic terms.
I think this team is in a growing mode,” Pareja said. “We have that many young leaders there. Mauro [Diaz] is young and he’s a good leader. Victor [Ulloa] is still young and is a leader. I could give them all [Diaz, Ulloa and Fabian Castillo] that responsibility in any game, so they can grow that leadership. I have done that already with Victor; I did it with Mauro; I may do it with somebody else.”
Some might think that not having one designated captain in Hedges going forward might lead to problems in terms of whose team it is, but Pareja doesn’t see things from that viewpoint.
You cannot imagine how it helps us internally with leadership skill growth. They recognize that they can carry it and I like that,” Pareja said. “Mauro [Diaz] did a great job [as captain], so now the group has three captains. Not one, but three, that’s good. Yeah, I may [change captains].”
Now that Hedges has returned to full health, he is once again Pareja’s primary captain. However, it’s good to know that should Hedges not be available for some reason, injury-related or otherwise, that there is no short supply of capable leaders to step up and wear the armband in his absence.
“What I’m doing is just sense who is leading and I think the group will give me that sign,” Pareja said. “The group is telling me without telling me that this is the leader because the leader rises to the forefront. The group just does it naturally.”
With FCD again contending in the Western Conference in 2016, it’s certainly hard to argue with Pareja’s approach to leadership, a quality his club seems to have no shortage of.