Preki has proven to be one of the best coaches in MLS over the last two years.
He led Chivas USA to consecutive playoff appearances while earning a Coach of the Year award along the way.
This offseason both club and manager agreed that it would be best for both to part ways, and now the former American international is looking forward to a new challenge as head coach of Toronto FC.
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I had the chance to catch up with Preki and get his thoughts on his time at Chivas USA, the form of Sacha Kljestan and his move to Toronto.
Keith Costigan: Can you assess your side’s performance last season and how you felt the team played throughout the campaign?
Preki: The goal at the start of the season was to go as far as we could in the playoffs and hopefully win the whole thing. We had a great start to the season but our form dipped, although we did pick up our form again to help us qualify for the playoffs.
I was really not happy over the last few games of the season because we had everything in our own hands to finish as a top seed for the playoffs but ended up not picking up the results we needed and we ended up having to play the Galaxy in the playoffs.
It was a tough draw and we went in hoping things would go our way and play like we know we can, but I didn’t think that happened. In the first game of the series we had our moments when we had them on the rack but in the second game it came down to one play deciding the match. I really don’t have any complaints because they made the play and we didn’t and that is football.
K.C.: The Galaxy knocked you out of the playoffs, but during your time at Chivas USA, your side was far more consistent in league play. Did it ever bother you that despite your team performing better on the field it was always the Galaxy who made the headlines in Los Angeles?
Preki: We already knew that everything in Los Angeles is about the L.A. Galaxy. It is their stadium and their facilities but it is something that we never worried about too much. The only thing we could do is to continue to go out and do well on the field and I felt like we were the more consistent team between the two during my time at Chivas.
K.C.: Chivas played some very attractive football with you as coach but seemed to lack a cutting edge in the final third. Do you believe your inability to progress in the playoffs was because of a lack of a true goal-scoring center forward?
Preki: I think it was always obvious that who ever we had up top always worked very hard for the team. We always created a lot of chances in our games but inability to take those chances was our downfall at times.
I believe that in my time at Chivas USA no team really outplayed us, but if you don’t take your chances you will be punished and that is what happened us in the playoffs.
K.C.: Sacha Kljestan came into last season as one of your key players but seemed to struggle for form for large parts of the year. Why do you believe such an immensely talented player struggled to hit top form?
Preki: That is a question for Sacha Kljestan. Throughout the year we worked on his defending but we never really gave him any restrictions going forward.
We always encouraged him to be creative and take chances when attacking and I think we saw an improvement in that over the second half of the season. I really can’t tell you why he struggled early on and that is something you would have to ask him.
K.C.: Having played at the very top level yourself, how far do you think Sacha Kljestan can go in the game?
Preki: It is really up to Sacha how far he wants to go. I always tell every player that if you want to go far in this game you can’t just talk about it. You have to work hard every day to give yourself the best opportunity to be successful.
I believe that everything starts in training and if your mentality and commitment is good there it will show in your performance in games and help you play at the highest level you can. It is important for players to understand that you cannot switch on and off in practice.
You can’t stroll around the training field all week and then expect to go out and be successful in the game on Saturday because it doesn’t work like that.
K.C.: At the end of the season you parted ways with Chivas USA after a very successful spell in charge of the club. Was it a situation where you felt you still had some unfinished business at Chivas or did you want to move on and take on a new challenge?
Preki: I think it was a mutual thing that I move on to a new challenge. I had become mentally tired about certain things at Chivas although the reasons why will stay with me. I felt like I gave everything to my job and now I felt like it was the time for someone new to come in and build on the progress we had made.
K.C.: Throughout last season you were constantly linked to the head coaching positions at Kansas City, D.C. United and Chicago, but it came as a bit of a shock to us all that you ended up becoming the new head coach of Toronto FC. What were your initial thoughts when Toronto made their move for you and how excited are you about taking on this new challenge?
Preki: I had heard all the rumors about the other clubs being interested in me but Mo Johnston acted fast and really showed me that he wanted me. I was very happy to commit to Toronto because they showed me that they felt I was the man for the job and sometimes you want to feel that from a club.
They were the first club I talked to and by making me feel like that really wanted me it made it an easy decision to join Toronto and now I am excited for the future here. Toronto is a great franchise that has great potential. It has some of the best fans in the league and they are hungry for success.
K.C.: You have inherited a squad that has flattered to deceive over the last few seasons. How happy are you with the squad you inherited and what kind of moves can we expect to see you make over the coming months?
Preki: We have already decided not to pick up the options on Amado Guevara and Pablo Vitti so we have already begun to make changes to the squad. Building the squad will take time but I think that we really have some special players in our locker room and we really have to teach them to play together and care for each other when they step on the field. If we do that we will be a successful team.
K.C.: What are your goals for next season at Toronto?
Preki: I just want to see us make progress as a team. I want us to be a difficult team to play against every night and I want us to work hard for each other on the field. If we can do those things then I believe success will follow. Our ultimate goal is obviously a championship but we have to understand the work that goes into winning one.