In a move that will raise the eyebrows of soccer fans across the county, Sacramento’s new professional soccer franchise announced today that Predreg Radosavljević, better known to the soccer world as "Preki," has been hired as the team’s first head coach.
"We wanted to have somebody who people would know," said Warren Smith, the head of the team’s ownership group. "Preki not only participated in Major League Soccer – played in MLS and coached in MLS – but he has also been one of the leaders in MLS on many fronts. This is a big find for Sacramento."
Warren has said that his plan is to take the team, whose name will be announced Thursday during Sacramento Soccer Day, to MLS within three to five years. They are currently part of USL-Pro, which serves as the third division in U.S. soccer.
"I think it’s extremely exciting times,” Preki said Saturday, the day after the contract was signed. "We’re getting the opportunity to build a team from scratch. That’s challenging and also really, really exciting."
Preki, originally from Belgrade, is a major figure in MLS history. He was one of the early stars of the league in the 90s and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. As a coach, he is known as a fiercely competitive, strict disciplinarian who organizes his teams from the back to front, with physical, hard working defense serving as a platform for the attack.
He played to type while being introduced to a group of the team’s advisors and supporters.
"I can promise you one thing – the determination, work ethic, commitment from myself, my staff, and the people on the field… will be second to none, because I’m a winner and I hate losing," he said. "I think sports is all about winning and hopefully we can win together."
Andrew Barnes, a co-founder of the Tower Bridge Battalion, a supports’ group for the new team, applauded the hire.
"I think it’s great," he said. "I remember watching him from his playing days with Kansas City in the MLS and his coaching days also. It’s a good pickup."
The team’s ability to get to the MLS will not just depend on on-the-field-results, but also on their ability to attract investment. The news of Preki’s hire sat well with Kevin Burbridge, a potential investor in the team and the president of the Easy Lift Door Company. He has been on the fence about whether to commit to the team, but he thought hiring Preki made him more likely to go forward.
"The short to medium term goal is that Sac soccer become an MLS franchise, and he has MLS credentials, so I think it nudges you further down the road," he said.
During his long playing career, Preki was a crafty right winger who could cut and juke his way through defenses, and finish with one of the best left foots the league has seen. He won the MLS MVP award twice while playing for Kansas City, in 1997 and 2003, and won the league cup in 2000. He joined the US National Team in 1996 after obtaining his US citizenship, and was part of the 1998 World Cup squad.
The video that accompanied his National Hall of Fame induction:
Upon ending his playing career in 2005, he became an assistant coach for the MLS team, Chivas USA, before eventually being promoted to head coach in 2007. During Preki’s first year in charge, Chivas finished the regular season at the to the top of the Western Division and he was named MLS coach of the year.
Chivas reached the playoffs during all three years Preki served as head coach, but he and the team parted ways in 2009 by "mutual consent". Chivas has failed to make the playoffs since.
Toronto FC hired Preki in 2010 to help turn the struggling franchise around. He started the season promisingly but, when the team hit a bad streak, he and the general manager were fired amid player discontent with Preki’s hard-nosed tactics. Toronto’s struggles have continued and the team has never made the playoffs.
Preki will begin work in Sacramento in mid August and already has an apartment picked out downtown. One of his first orders of business will be to travel to colleges in the region to scout players.
Anyone he selects for a tryout better be prepared to work hard.
"I’ve been around the league such a long time," he said. "I’ve been on winning sides. I understand and I know what it takes to get there."
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