Blast defender Emil Dragicevic's best friend is St. Louis Storm offensive star Preki. They are both from Yugoslavia. They played together for two years in St. Louis before Dragicevic joined the Blast.
When the Blast is in St. Louis, Preki invites Dragicevic to his home and Dragicevic returns the favor in Baltimore. Many nights, such as Tuesday, they go out to dinner together -- Dragicevic, Preki and their good friend Branko Segota, who is also Preki's teammate.
The conversation is usually about home in Yugoslavia, about the civil war there, about family and friends. But occasionally, the conversation comes around to soccer, as it did Tuesday night. But Dragicevic did not reveal one important detail about tonight's game.
He did not tell his best friend that they would not be friends tonight.
"In this game, I will mark Preki," Dragicevic said, happiness sounding in his voice. "He doesn't know it. It will be a surprise. I look forward to seeing his face."
The Blast is in need of a victory, as it chases the fourth and final playoff spot in the Major Soccer League. And coach Kenny Cooper knows the only way to beat St. Louis is to stop the talented midfielder with the single name.
"If we stop Preki, we win the game, simple as that," said Cooper.
In past games, Blast defender Iain Fraser has marked Preki. But in the last meeting between the two sides, Feb. 21, Preki figured a way around Fraser, scoring two goals and an assist, before Dragicevic shared the duty in the second half.
It was an interesting half to Dragicevic.
"Preki made me so mad, we almost got in a fight," Dragicevic recalled. "He got nothing from me in that half, but he tried to kick me. I couldn't believe it. I told him, 'You kick me and I will kick you back harder.' He is my best friend, yes. But business is business."
There are few secrets in this game. And when it comes to playing, there are none between Preki and Dragicevic, who have played with and against each other time after time through the years. Preki knows Dragicevic is no pushover and Dragicevic knows all about Preki's talent.
Dragicevic added he will try to keep Preki away from his favorite spot between the red line and the top of the box.
"I will try to push him into the corners," Dragicevic said. "I will try to make sure he does not score. But I know him. When he sees I am marking him, he will say to me, 'I will score goal now.' "
Dragicevic laughs at the thought. He knows he has a formidable job ahead. He must stop Preki, but it not a frightening thought.
"After we lost Sunday in Tacoma, everyone in the locker room was almost crying," Dragicevic said. "We had played well, in what was a very important game for us, and we lost. It was a hard thing. But everyone, everyone is ready to play now. None of us can wait to get out there and play this game.
"I will play Preki, and when he tells me he is going to score a goal, I will tell him, 'Don't worry about it.' He is going to get nothing from me."