Hyperbole isn’t typically something Oscar Pareja deals in, but the FC Dallas head coach and reigning Major League Soccer Coach of the Year will admit that Wednesday night’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) Semifinals in Mexico against CF Pachuca is about as big as they get.
That’s because if FCD, who is in the CCL for just the second time as a franchise, (FCD was bounced in the group stage of the 2011 event) can remain ahead of Los Tuzos (the Gophers) on aggregate goals, then Dallas advances to the CCL finals for the first time in club history.
For Pareja, whose team won both the MLS Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team finishing with the league’s best regular-season record, and the US Open Cup title, a tournament named for the club’s founding owner, Lamar Hunt, in 2016, it’s the latest trophy he has his team positioned to win.
Such big, high-stakes games have become the norm for FCD during the Pareja era, which began in 2014, but even the man known as “Papi” admits this match Wednesday night (9 PM CT; Univision Sports) at Estadio Hidalgo is different.
“Yeah, well, we have been saying that (a lot) for the past year,” Pareja responded when asked if this is one of the biggest matches in franchise history. “Exactly (it’s a good thing). That means progression. That means that we’re stepping up and we’re going in the right direction, when you can talk about this game maybe being the most important in the history of the club. You can’t hide in those moments. It is important.”
FCD leads the aggregate-goal series 2-1 after edging Los Tuzos at Toyota Stadium on March 15.
And except for Dallas’ appearance in MLS Cup 2010 at BMO Field in Toronto, when FCD lost in heartbreaking fashion in what to date has been its lone appearance in the league final to rival Colorado via an owned goal in overtime, this match Wednesday must be considered one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in franchise history.
However, winning at Pachuca is a tall order for several reasons. For one, the Tuzos have a huge home-field advantage from playing their home games at over 9,000 feet, a big reason Pachuca hasn’t lost a home match in a year’s time.
But Pareja and FCD have been working to minimize that advantage by traveling to Mexico last Wednesday to give themselves ample time to get acclimated to that higher elevation, which will hopefully minimize the effects that altitude will have on their in-game fitness levels come Wednesday night.
Pareja might not deal in hyperbole or superlatives, but Dallas captain Matt Hedges, who is also usually more of the stoic type, didn’t hesitate one bit when asked just how big this upcoming match is for FCD, both for the near future as well as for the franchise’s bigger picture and history.
“Yeah, it is a big game. It’s a chance to go to the CONCACAF Finals, not many teams get there in MLS,” Hedges said. “It’s a big game, but we’re just focusing on what we need to do in the game and not thinking about that.”