What Ever Happened To ... Preki?
MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our third annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with two-time MLS MVP and onetime MLS Coach of the Year Preki.
Where He Was Then
Owner of perhaps the wickedest left foot in US soccer history, the Yugoslavia-born Predreg Radosavljević (better and more easily known as Preki, of course) was an indoor soccer phenomenon before joining the Kansas City Wiz at the outset of MLS.
The crafty winger played until he was 42, winning two MLS MVP awards, two league scoring titles and an MLS Cup while starring for the national team of his adopted country. As a head coach, he helped Chivas USA earn four straight playoff appearances and won the MLS Coach of the Year award in 2007 before moving on to a brief, stormy tenure at the reins of Toronto FC.
Where He Is Now
An intense competitor and longtime student of the game, Preki gracefully bridged the pre-MLS era into the 21st century, enjoying a short but memorable international career with the US national team and playing to an age most non-goalkeepers can only dream of.
He made a seamless transition into coaching, where he apprenticed under Bob Bradley at Chivas USA, then led that franchise to its most successful years after Bradley took over the USMNT job. His time in Toronto started promisingly but was cut short by an organizational housecleaning in September 2010 – and despite a career record of 51-40-31 at two of the league’s most star-crossed clubs, he hasn’t been offered a new gig since.
“I would love to go back into the coaching side of things,” he reports from the Chicago area, where he and his family moved after his departure from TFC. “I’m waiting for another opportunity. I’ve been on the outside a couple of years and to be really honest, I really don’t know what happened.
“Obviously, I was let go from Toronto – for whatever reason, I’m not sure – but the decision was made. But I was always proud of the job I’d done at Chivas and Toronto. I thought the commitment was always there and hopefully people around the league, or around the world, respect that.”
He remains one of only two head coaches in TFC history not to leave the post with a losing record.
Preki and his wife Trisha relocated to the Windy City to be closer to their daughter Natasa when she chose to play college soccer at DePaul. Now a junior, Natasa is a key contributor to the Blue Demons attack while her younger brother Nick, a midfielder, began his own NCAA career at Catawba College in North Carolina last fall.
While he recognizes that his line of work requires a willingness to pull up stakes on short notice, Preki has grown fond of his current environs.
“I’d been here many, many times, I have a lot of friends here and it’s a really nice place for me,” he says. “Chicago has a great soccer culture, a lot of diversity and it’s a big sports city. But I wouldn’t be afraid to move.”
Meanwhile, he waits for another chance to make his mark at the pro level. He says he’s come “very close” to earning managerial gigs in both North America and Europe, and does not hide his frustration as he watches MLS clubs make head coaching hires that he feels have more to do with names and networks than actual experience.
“I think I do have a lot to offer to the game,” he says. “The four years I was at Chivas, one year under Bob Bradley and three years after him, I think were probably the four best years in Chivas history. And the amount of work that’s been done over there speaks for itself, I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.
“I just went to Toronto with the best intentions and the time that I was there, I certainly gave everything to the club on a daily basis. I am very confident – I know for a fact – that the next opportunity, I will be successful, too.”
When asked if he ever kicks a ball around in his downtime, Preki – somewhat surprisingly – says that the thought never crosses his mind, thanks to a long-running love affair with another sport from his Balkan youth.
“Actually, I’m a hoops guy,” he reveals with a chuckle. “I don’t touch the soccer ball at all. The thing is, even when I played, every offseason – as soon as the season finishes, I am on the basketball court. I love both sports, but all those years I spent so much time on the soccer field, I missed out on the basketball. Now I’m trying to get the time back.
“I can shoot a little bit – you’d be surprised, I can play. That’s the best part of the time that I have off, I can really spend more time on the court playing basketball.”
What They Said
“I have never met a more competitive person in my life. Board games, cards, basketball, soccer (at practice or in a real game), he will do whatever it takes to win and, the best part, he will say you cheated if you beat him. I remember engaging in one-v-one drills against him in practice and, even though I knew he could only stand on his right foot and not kick with it, he would still find a way to abuse me with his magical left foot.”
– Former Kansas City teammate Jimmy Conrad