Editorial: Do It For the Players
Saint Louis FC was officially eliminated from the playoffs shortly after their 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati and the team staff is now able to shift some, if not all, of its attention to next season. They have some hefty decisions indeed on the near horizon and topping the list are coach and player contracts. I have some opinions on the matter, or rather, I have one specific opinion: keep a majority of the current players for next season.
That said, a few things need to be addressed in order to figure it all out. Luckily, we have some clues about the front office staff. I think it’s safe to say that President of the club, Pat Barry, will probably retain his role. If that’s true, you can refer to my interview with him in Episode 50 to figure out what happens to GM Jeremy Alumbaugh. “Jeremy is one of the best general managers I’ve ever come across [...] Jeremy’s not going anywhere if I have anything to do with it” (please listen to the episode for more context).
That leaves Preki. First question is, does he want to come back? Many assume Preki has purchased a plane ticket for a flight that leaves sometime between when the final whistle blows vs Bethlehem Steel and the final post-game presser. Who could blame him? The 2017 season must have been the most treacherous season of his coaching career. But at the same time, do you really want to go out like that? Do you want to leave the bad taste of 14 losses and 8 draws (with potentially one more) in the mouth of club owners and presidents around the world? I sure wouldn’t, and truly believe Preki can, and will, do better should he choose to stay. Some of the best coaches in the world have a bad first season followed by successful campaigns. Not considering this possibility of success would be a mistake. Before arriving in Saint Louis his career coaching record is 85-62-45 with a goal differential of +54. In many ways this season has been an outlier, but even if this is the case, the problem doesn’t stop with Preki.
Would the players want to play for him if he came back? I’m going to mix in some players’ thoughts gathered throughout the season with my own in this and the following paragraph. Firstly, Preki brought in several of “his players” for this roster. These are players he scouted from his home state of California after things went south with (insert club here) following his departure from Sacramento Republic--many OC Blues vets, Sacramento Republic vets, as well as a handful of Serbian expats. These players, more than likely--as long as they don’t get better offers from other teams--believe in Preki and would stay on for another year. This, in my estimation, already makes up a majority of the team. In addition to mere loyalty, EVERY player I’ve talked to respects Preki’s experience and expertise on the field. With no exception, every player has talked about how much they’ve improved individually under him. He has the kind of knowledge to know instinctively what to do at any given moment--especially in the attacking side of the game. What’s more, players know they benefit from the high expectation of performance demanded from Preki day in and day out.
Why wouldn’t they come back? Players are in this for their careers. They can’t just sacrifice a whole season for the good of the club or city. Each player must do what he feels is best for himself--whatever the reason. And let’s be honest, money goes a long way in this regard. The front office really seems to have upped their salary spending in the last 2 years, but some players are bound to get better offers. Some players will know by now that Preki’s system doesn’t play to their strengths and will seek a club that offers a better fit. Still others may be out of favor or underplayed, which leads me to some ponderings about Preki’s weaknesses as a coach.
It’s no secret that Preki hates dealing with the media. In fact, he truly seems to detest talking to really anyone he’s not coaching. No big deal. We knew this coming in. I imagine the front office took the trade off of negative fan/media feedback in favor of wins*. But what if this disposition affects his communication with the players? If a player is benched, do they know why? Have they been told what to work on in order to get back into the 18? Sometimes the smart, eccentric soccer mind, in this case Preki, has trouble with the man management side of things that American players seem to thrive under. In the NFL, Jim Harbaugh was famously let go after his dictator-style coaching turned his pro level players against him. Alternatively, Jurgen Klinsmann was well liked by most players he coached. Hell, Dale Schilly was, and is, beloved by all who come in contact with him. Both sides can be argued convincingly.
Am I saying Preki should be fired because of his social skills? Absolutely not. What I am saying is how many players who are on the fence about Saint Louis FC would choose Preki over another club making a similar offer? I know for a fact that the most outspoken fans are backing the players. Additionally, how much of this year’s difficulties were made worse by wiping the roster clean? Charlotte Independence’s President, Jim McPhilliamy, was on the Inverted Triangle podcast recently. When asked what some of the team’s greatest assets were in the team’s success this season, he replied that veteran players who had played together for a long time was a definite advantage over other USL teams.
So what I am saying is if either keeping or losing Preki costs us a majority of the players, maybe cut your losses and lean the other way in favor of the long term benefits of cohesion. I know many fans are in favor of #PrekiOut, and very much understand why. Preki even acknowledged that emotion in a STL Today article by Steve Overbey.
“I feel good about what I’m doing. If that’s not good enough, I understand that too. This is a results-oriented business. And some people could look at this as a total failure and I can respect that.”
However, in the same article, GM Jeremy Alumbaugh made this comment:
“We’ve got some work to do[...]In this league you have to have some consistency with your roster. We want to have some consistency from this year to next year.”
It sounds to me that Jeremy may indeed like some players to stay. To what extent does he go to make sure that happens? What variables will help or hurt him in that difficult endeavor? -PG
*many would argue that the number of wins he brought proved to be a bad trade