Already confident that St. Louis FC had made the right choice in hiring Preki as its head coach, CEO Jim Kavanaugh had the selection validated further during a weekend phone call.
“We finalized the deal Friday night and when I called Preki on Saturday to congratulate him, he tells me that he’s packing up and leaving on Monday,” Kavanaugh recounted. “That gives you an idea of the kind of commitment this guy has. Early in the process, we knew Preki was our choice. I can’t tell you how excited I am about having him here, not only for STLFC but for the entire St. Louis Scott Gallagher club.”
The area’s United Soccer League franchise introduced 53-year-old Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic to fans and reporters Wednesday night.
“It’s a process and we need to go one step at a time,” Preki said. “I can’t make any promises or guarantees, but I have high expectations and high goals. Other than my family, nothing means more to me than winning.”
Preki, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yugoslavia, finished the 32-hour drive from Seattle late Tuesday night and reported to work at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton on Wednesday.
“We got a job to do,” he said.
Preki, who starred indoors with the St. Louis Storm in 1990-92, went on to enjoy even bigger success outdoors with Major League Soccer’s Kansas City Wizards. He’s the only player in history to lead the league in scoring and earn MVP titles twice, in 1997 and 2003, with the second honors coming at age 40.
He also made 28 appearances with the U.S. national team from 1996 to 2001.
“An incredible player,” said Kavanaugh, who said his memories of playing against Preki were not fond ones. “But not every great player can be a good coach. That’s what is so special about Preki.”
Preki was promoted from assistant coach by Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA in January 2007 and guided the team to the Western Conference title and was named MLS coach of the year. After two more seasons in LA, he coached MLS’ Toronto FC during the 2010 campaign.
After some time off, he returned to coaching in 2014 with the USL expansion team Sacramento Republic, which enjoyed immediate success on the field and at the gate. The club drew record-setting crowds and won the league title.
He resigned in July 2015 in hope of a once-in-a-lifetime job in England, but it never materialized.
“There were things in (the) works to take over the club in England,” he explained. “In all fairness, I wanted to leave enough time for Sacramento to find someone to keep things going. I made a mistake leaving there early because that organization was great to me. But it’s behind me now and I gotta look forward to the new challenge here.”
Preki takes over an STLFC club that has gone 19-24-19 in all competitions over its first two seasons. Preki’s record with Sacramento in the USL: 33-15-5.
“He’s a winner, plain and simple,” STLFC defender and CBC grad A.J. Cochran said. “What a great job by the organization to bring in a guy like Preki.. With his résumé and his winning mentality, I don’t think they could’ve made a better move. I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, but I can’t wait to start working with him and learning from him.”
STLFC is hoping to tap into Preki’s extensive list of soccer contacts to help recruit players to St. Louis and looks for him to bring a fresh approach to the organization.
“He brings the passion, the determination and the commitment to creating an environment where players are pushed to realize their full potential,” STLFC vice president and general manager Jeremy Alumbaugh said. “His track record of winning at both the MLS and USL levels make him the ideal person to lead St. Louis FC, but also his ability to develop players during different points in their careers is something we were attracted to. If you look at the players he has helped... you see a history of making player better and helping them become true professionals.”