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What if Preki hadn’t left Sacramento Republic?

Would it have made a big difference?

Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Continuing our “What if?” series as part of the theme week around here on SB Nation, let’s ask the following: What if Preki hadn’t left Sacramento Republic FC suddenly during the 2015 season?

First, let’s back up a bit to tell the story: Preki was Sac Republic’s first manager, and famously led the club to the title in 2014, their first season.

The fiery Serbian-born midfielder, the only player to ever win two MLS MVP awards and a U.S. international in his final years as a pro, had followed a successful stint managing Chivas USA in MLS, followed by a poor run with Toronto FC, at that time the most dysfunctional team in the league.

He went to Sacramento in some ways to break back into the game, and he was so successful that in July 2015 he suddenly resigned from Republic FC, reportedly to take a coaching role in England.

Rumors swirled that Preki, who had previously played in England for Everton and Portsmouth, was set to take over the manager’s role at Leicester City. He was said to be close to an executive at the club, and it seemed random, but hey, sure.

Weeks went by, “Where is Preki?” became an inside joke in American soccer as the man wouldn’t emerge following his shock resignation, and eventually, Claudio Ranieri was appointed Leicester’s manager. The rest is history: Ranieri won the league title with Leicester, and by the way, it’s fun to consider Preki winning that title, just to see Premier League fans’ heads explode over a Serbian-American winning the league championship. Preki maintained a low profile until 2017, when he was hired as Saint Louis FC head coach, having never apparently taken a job in England after all.

Preki has always denied he was set to be appointed Leicester City boss, but let’s take the other side of this: What if he hadn’t left Sacramento Republic when he did?

He would have stayed longer, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he left the post by the end of 2016, probably at the latest. I called Preki “fiery,” the man is demanding, he forges his teams by fire, and sometimes it succeeds — like in Sacramento and Chivas — and sometimes it fails — like in Toronto or Saint Louis. He burns brightly, and then he leaves or he stops being effective and/or rubs his bosses the wrong way one too many times and is asked to leave.

So I think he realistically would have been there through 2016 probably at the latest. Would that have made a difference in the 2015 and 2016 seasons? Possibly. The team underperformed in the playoffs those seasons, falling to rival LA Galaxy II in their first game in 2015, and getting shockingly knocked out in a penalty shootout at home as the Western Conference’s top seed by Orange County SC in 2016. The brimstone may have grinded on his players, but it’s also quite likely they’d alternately be that much more sharp when it came to the postseason, and that could have helped push them into a deep run.

You could argue Preki’s sudden departure was the first bit of adversity that Sacramento Republic faced on the field. Paul Buckle had a decent run but couldn’t match his predecessor’s heights. I think Preki may have second thoughts in hindsight about leaving Republic FC when he did, and I’m guessing the club didn’t want him to walk out in the middle of a season, especially as defending champs. But what’s done is done, and we’re left to contemplate what could have been if Preki hadn’t bolted on Sacramento Republic FC.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.