Former soccer scoring greats Preki and McCoist to meet Saturday night at Bonney Field

Two of professional soccer’s most prolific goal scorers will match wits when Republic FC hosts the Rangers FC of Glasgow, Scotland, in tonight’s soccer friendly at Bonney Field.

While Republic FC’s Preki and the Rangers’ Ally McCoist are well past their playing days, as coaches they have developed teams that mirror their love for challenges while promoting creative soccer.

McCoist is second in Scottish history in goals with 396, with 355 during his long tenure with the Rangers (1983-1998). He also had 19 goals in 61 matches for the Scottish National Team.

Preki scored 481 goals – 389 indoors – and led Major League Soccer in scoring twice. He scored the only goal when the U.S. Men’s National Team upset Brazil 1-0 for the first time in the 1998 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Although both are 51 and played hundreds of matches during their long careers, neither could remember if they had ever played against the other.

“I was talking to him (Thursday) night and we must have played against each other but, sadly, neither of us can remember,” McCoist said. “He was a very, very talented player, and he’s showing that he’s a talented coach, too. He’s in great form. You can see he’s enjoying life, enjoying his work.”

Preki has made Republic FC, an expansion team, one of the top teams in USL Pro, despite some key injuries and a difficult schedule.

Republic FC, in third place, is coming off an impressive scoreless draw Thursday at Bonney Field against first-place Orlando City SC, an MLS-bound team that hasn’t lost in USL Pro play this year.

It was Republic FC’s third match in six days after losing to the Richmond Kickers 2-1 last Saturday in Richmond, Va., then beating the Charlotte Eagles 1-0 on Monday in North Carolina.

“USL Pro is a wonderful league for making coaches learn how to improvise and to coach on the fly,” Republic FC technical director Graham Smith said. “So nothing is stable, nothing is taken for granted, and there often are surprising results.”

After playing the Rangers tonight, Republic FC will play friendlies against English Premier League West Bromwich Albion FC at home Monday and Friday before hosting Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a USL Pro match July 27.

McCoist has dealt with his own challenges while coaching an historic club that has won more league titles than any team in history.

Rangers FC has been plagued my turmoil in recent seasons. A $79 million dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the United Kingdom’s taxing agency, led to the team’s liquidation and a new ownership group in 2012.

At that time, the team was ejected from the top-tier Scottish Premier League, where it has won a record 54 league titles. It was forced to re-enter in the third division.

Despite the challenges, McCoist stayed as coach.

Rangers FC won the Scottish League Two (third division) championship in 2012, then took the League One title with a 33-0-3 record last season. Last week, the HMRC taxing agency lost its court appeal against the former Rangers ownership group.

“I’ve supported this club since I was a wee boy,” McCoist said. “I was lucky enough to play for the club for 15 years, so it means everything to me. It’s more than a football club. Now we’re on our journey back.”

Starting next month, Rangers FC will play in the Scottish Championship division – one notch below Premier – a big reason McCoist decided to bring his team to California and Canada for training and matches this week and next.

On Friday, McCoist held workouts in the morning and afternoon at Bonney Field.

“While we’re playing games, we’re also here to work so that we’ll be ready to rock for our first (league) match,” McCoist said. “This is a wonderful place, a wonderful climate. We aren’t going to get this kind of heat back home.”

Rangers FC were upset 3-1 on Tuesday by Ventura County Fusion of the USL Premier Development League, the fourth tier of soccer in the United States. Republic FC beat Ventura County 2-1 earlier this season in the U.S. Open Cup.

Smith said that loss might not be such a good thing for Sacramento.

“That was probably Ventura County’s finest hour,” said Smith, a former Fusion coach and team president. “I told Preki that Ventura played a wonderful game, but hopefully the Rangers don’t take it out on us (tonight).

“These are highly paid professionals with the talent to return to the Scottish Premier League. When they play, they have thousands of Rangers fans around the world following them. It will be interesting to see how the players react.”