In Kansas City, Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic became one of the great players in Major League Soccer history. At Chivas USA, he won an MLS coach of the year award. In Ontario, he led Toronto FC to a Canadian Championship. And in California he led the Sacramento Republic to the 2014 USL championship.
But his American career began in Tacoma, where Preki flourished from 1985-1990 as perhaps the best and best known of the Tacoma Stars during the glory days of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
“Those days meant a lot to me,” Preki said this week. “Obviously I still have a lot of people — a lot of friends — up there. I have a lot of family up there. I’m always excited to go back up there and see those people. Tacoma has played a big part in my development and in my career. So I always loved the place, and I always feel close to that place.”
Preki returns this weekend, leading the Republic into Starfire Sports Stadium for the inaugural game of the new Sounders 2 USL team at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
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“I know Preki is a guy that demands hard work and effort from his players,” S2 coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “And he’s a guy that knows what a talented footballer is, so I’m sure he has good players on his squad. They are the defending champion, and we do respect that, but we don’t fear that.”
Preki was born in Yugoslavia, made his U.S. debut with the Stars in 1985, and in 1989 was named MISL most valuable player.
When Major League Soccer was launched in 1996 he signed with Kansas City, where he was part of the team’s 2000 MLS Cup championship and 2004 U.S. Open Cup championship. Over 10 MLS seasons he scored 79 goals, recorded 112 assists and was named MVP in 1997 and 2003. In 2005, he was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI.
After his playing career ended in 2005, he went on to become head coach at Chivas USA, where he was named MLS coach of the year in 2007. Last season, he led Sacramento to the USL championship with a 2-0 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders.
However, he returns to a different league in 2015, with the USL sprouting from 14 to 24 teams, largely through the offseason addition of development clubs operated by MLS franchises in Seattle, Montreal, New York, Portland, Salt Lake, Toronto and Vancouver.
“Good changes,” Preki said. “Obviously quite a few MLS teams decided to put their second teams in the league. I just think the level of the USL and the playing is going to get better. We’re excited for that.”
Sacramento is affiliated with the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, while Sounders 2 is fully operated by Seattle Sounders FC. Both teams combine the dual goals of trying to succeed in the USL environment while developing players for MLS.
”Obviously, the level is different,” Preki said. “The athletic ability is different. What we’re trying to do is teach these young players to play at the faster tempo, so if they get the opportunity to play at the next level they can cope with the pace of the game.”
It is a development process much like the one Preki himself went through in Tacoma.
“He was a young kid. He was 20, 21, couldn’t speak English,” former Stars coach Alan Hinton said. “ I realized what a great talent he had, but I also realized that a lot of the players were blaming him for everything. So when I took the job, I actually sent somebody off the practice field during the first practice for yelling at Preki, and I told the rest of the team, ‘Stop shouting at this kid. He’s going to help us be a good team, and we’re going to win a lot of games.’”
Sounders FC forward Kevin Parsemain is no longer training with the club. Coach Sigi Schmid indicated the parting is due to salary and roster dictates of the new MLS collective bargaining agreement, and that Parsemain’s situation should be resolved by Monday. All-Star midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (groin) went through all of training Thursday. Central defender Chad Marshall was still held out after taking a fall from a bicycle kick Saturday, but Schmid indicated his recovery is on schedule. Schmid also continued to voice hope that right back Tyrone Mears’ hamstring tear will not cost him significant playing time.