If you followed Major League Soccer in the ten years from 1996 to 2005, the name Preki (or lesser known Predrag Radosavljević) should bring back great memories; especially for those living in Kansas City, while not forgetting the rest of the Nation, when he scored for the United States against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup.
Truly a wizard in the Midfield, his nine years in Kansas City saw him score 71 goals while providing 98 assists – the only year not there he scored 8 goals and offered up 14 assists with the Miami Fusion. In the world of MLS Preki dominated, earning two MVP awards (1997 and 2003) and two Golden Boot awards in those same years. He’s also a member of the MLS All-time Best XI and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame (elected in 2010).
More importantly to him, I sense after our chat, are his team accomplishments in winning the MLS Cup in 2000, the MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2000 and 2001, and the US Open Cup in 2004. In front of him now is the challenge in managing Sacramento Republic FC; a fledging club with their sights set on joining the ever-growing MLS.
So how goes it with Preki today?
I caught up with Preki this Friday morning, before the Sacramento Republic FC training session, to find out. The newly formed club has trained and played together for about 2 months now – seeing 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses in their first five games. Overall he is pleased with his young players, they have settled into their routine, they understand expectations and their commitment and work ethic is good. “I am generally happy and the young men try very hard.”
In summing up that topic Preki noted “I always want to win” and am never happy when we lose. That fire and passion that led to individual success certainly looks to have carried over into his leadership principles as Head Coach.
And it certainly ties back into the quote offered up by MLS Soccer staff last year where Preki told the media “I think sports is all about winning and hopefully we can win together”. Here’s a link to that article in case you missed it.
Times have changed but not really…
When first arriving in the US Preki offered, “You could barely find any football on TV or in the parks; times now are different – football is everywhere. Youth are advancing – it’s amazing what has happened in the country the last 20 years. So times have changed…”
To go further with that here’s what he offered when I asked him to pick out the 1st thing he looks for in a player. “It’s mentality” Preki quickly responded.
That has not changed – “you have to look at the demeanor of a player across the full 90 minutes of play – when he has the ball and when he doesn’t have the ball.” Some others might use the word ‘nous’; a British word – sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence…
To put it another way – Preki indicated that if a player does not have the “right mentality first – regardless of technical or tactical ability, he doesn’t belong with me”… that view was valid 20 years ago and it remains valid today.
Preki also went on to say “these days formations change and vary – yet the midfield will always be the most important part of the (pitch). The game itself has evolved where players have more speed, pace, and must cover more ground”. But having the technical skills has not changed – and with modern players they must have all those attributes; whereas perhaps 15-20 years ago maybe not.
On balancing the needs of Portland and San Jose versus running Sacramento Republic FC…
It’s no secret that both Portland and San Jose have players on loan to Sacramento and when I asked Preki how that worked given the somewhat different attacking styles of the two teams he offered. (To paraphrase) All told we (Sacramento) are trying to get the results with the players we have here – whether from Portland or San Jose doesn’t matter. We want to teach our group to play the right way – possession with the ball – attacking and defending. We pay some attention to Portland and San Jose but we are trying to build a successful franchise here.
Preki indicated they look to improve all the time and rely on video to review team performance as a group. “We win as a group and we lose as a group. We make sure we are on the same page as the statistics we evaluate – once in awhile you look at (trends) but mostly it’s about growth and playing as a group to get better.”
In asking how Portland Timbers players Jake Gleeson and Aaron Long have performed…
“Aaron is a young player we had for about a month or so who shows lots of potential. He was given opportunities; some moments okay some not. Maybe he goes elsewhere (after returning to the Timbers) – at the moment he was not ready to take a spot on the team.”
On the other hand Jake Gleeson, who has been a back-up goal keeper in Portland for a few years now, shows Preki that mentality, that drive to win and to be better while hating to lose. The more he played the better he got – he has a slight injury but he will continue to improve – he will compete and has a spot on the team. To quote… “Jake is going to be playing when he gets fit again.” In wrapping up our discussion Preki did indicate he is looking forward to seeing midfielder George Fochive, another Timbers draft pick this past year, join Sacramento on loan.
I was asked a question the other day about chemistry and the US Men’s National Team selection process. I did ask Preki his thoughts on team chemistry. And while he offered it was not fair to comment about the USMNT he certainly believes chemistry and commitment is incredibly important – “if a group lacks that it will always be difficult.”
Things appear to moving in the right direction for Sacramento Republic FC as they recently announced their inaugural home opener has sold out at 20,231, a USL Pro regular season record.