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The pressure's on Preki in Toronto
by Ridge Mahoney, January 26th, 2010 7AM

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[MLS] When quizzed about his team's lack of aggression at the 2010 SuperDraft, Toronto coach Preki neatly finessed the issue as easily as he did potential tacklers during a playing career that spanned more than two decades.

"We weren't going to panic," he said of TFC sticking with its two lower-round picks (Nos. 24 and 53 overall) and not swinging a move to get a first-round selection. "We had a good draft last year and we have a lot of players coming back, and we have some moves in mind, so we're happy with where we are."

TFC had dealt its 2010 first-round pick to FC Dallas during the 2009 season to acquire defender Adrian Serioux, and late in the season brought aboard midfielder Julian de Guzman as its first Designated Player.

The departure of midfielder Amado Guevara to his native Honduras and the retirement of fan favorite Danny Dichio had already roiled the roster, so despite his nickname of "Trader Mo," manager, director of soccer Mo Johnston and his newest hiring decided to stand pat.

The dynamic between Johnston and Preki -- former teammates not only with Kansas City but in England with Everton - will be one of the fascinating subplots of the 2010 MLS season. Despite regular sellouts at BMO Field, TFC has missed the playoffs in each of its three seasons, so both of these fiercely competitive men must be ready to produce success. The team is also spending millions of dollars to install a grass field and build ancillary facilities to replace the synthetic-turf surface being removed.

"Of course the pressure is on us to make the playoffs but to me the most important pressure is what you put on yourself," says Preki. "Mo and I and the players don't need anyone to tell us we are under a lot of pressure. Mo and I may disagree about some things but we are committed to winning. I think that's more important."

At Chivas USA, Preki reached the playoffs three straight years - he'd served as an assistant to Bob Bradley in 2006 before taking the helm when Bradley jumped to the U.S. national team - and each season ended in the conference semifinals. Injuries marred the team, especially in the last two seasons, but disagreements with club management - parent club Guadalajara and owner Jorge Vergara are taking more control of the U.S.-based operation -- triggered speculation he'd be gone after the 2009 season even when the team held first place in the Western Conference.

"There's no need to talk about it," he said of his departure, which opened the job for Martin Vasquez. "The time was right for me to leave and this is a great opportunity for me in Toronto, to work with Mo and this organization, and I'm just really glad to be here."

Preki will need some grounding in the special rules MLS has set up for its only, to date, Canadian entry. Each MLS team is allotted eight international slots, except Toronto, which has 13 such allotments, five of which may be used on U.S. players.

For TFC, domestic players refer to those legally authorized to work in Canada: Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or those assigned protected status.

His 40-29-21 record in the regular season contrasts sharply with a mark of 0-3-3 in the playoffs. Johnston, though, moved quickly; less than a week after Chivas USA announced Preki had been let go, TFC announced his hiring to take over a team that has posted a 25-41-24 record under three previous head coaches, including Johnston.

"He was a great teammate as a player, and I think you can see he brought that winning mentality to Chivas USA as a coach," says Johnston. "That's what we want at this club, and now it's up to him and all of us."

 



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