Exclusive: Pareja steps down as Rapids coach

Oscar Pareja has stepped down as head coach of the Colorado Rapids, sources confirmed exclusively to Goal USA on Saturday.
Oscar Pareja was widely praised for his work in leading the Colorado Rapids through an injury-hit 2013 season, but it looks like he will not be back in 2014.

Pareja stepped down as head coach of the Rapids on Friday, sources confirmed to Goal USA on Saturday. Pareja leaves the club after two seasons in charge, including a 2013 season that saw him lead the Rapids to the Western Conference playoffs.

According to sources, the Rapids have already zeroed in two leading candidates. New York Red Bulls assistant coach and former Rapids player Robin Fraser, and former Portland Timbers head coach and former Rapids player John Spencer are the front-runners for the vacant position, with Fraser looking like the favorite at the moment.

Pareja's departure from Colorado ends a messy situation that came about after FC Dallas made a play for the former Dallas player and assistant coach. FC Dallas balked on paying a sizable buyout fee to hire Pareja, but when Colorado failed to counter with a new contract for Pareja, the Colombian-born boss soured on Colorado.

Pareja had one year remaining on his existing contract, which means he won't be able to coach anywhere else in 2014 unless the Rapids reach an agreement to release him from his commitment. FC Dallas remains a likely destination for the former Dallas player, but he won't be able to coach FC Dallas unless a deal is reached with the Rapids.

The Rapids finished in fifth place in the Western Conference in 2013, an impressive feat considering the number of injuries that decimated Colorado early in the season. Pareja integrated rookies Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown, as well as fellow newcomers Shane O'Neill, Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, on a Rapids team with one of the best collections of young talent in the league.

Fraser is a logical choice to replace Pareja in Colorado, having only recently lost out on the Real Salt Lake head coaching job, which went to Jeff Cassar. Spencer is another option, having been tied to Colorado's coaching position in the past. Spencer has not coached since being fired by the Timbers in the summer of 2012.