After years as an assistant coach, Mike Lapper got the opportunity to roam the sidelines as the top guy. It was an experience that was made even better by winning.
Lapper, who was a staple for the US National Team between 1991 and 1995, had a distinguished career as a defender for Wolfsburg, Southend United, and Columbus Crew.
After retiring from playing, he joined the Crew’s front office before moving to the coaching staff in 2006. In 2013, he left Ohio to become an assistant coach at West Virginia University. In 2018, he was named as Brad Friedel’s assistant with the New England Revolution.
When Friedel was let go on Thursday, Lapper was named as the interim head coach. Now the man in charge of making the big decisions, Lapper leaned on what he learned while working with an MLS coaching legend.
“I was lucky enough to be an assist with Sigi [Schmid] when he came to the Crew in 2006, and I was in the coaching staff to rebuild that team,” Lapper said. “And we were able to do it in three years – and I’m not taking any glory or anything for that – but I was in the process and Sigi was an amazing mentor and coach to me.”
Schmid, who died in 2018, accomplished many things during his 28-year coaching career. He captured three NCAA championships, five U.S. Open Cups, three Supporters’ Shields, and two MLS Cups. His legacy lives on, as MLS has named their Coach of the Year award after him.
While Lapper certainly picked up on some of Schmid’s tactical nuances, he learned the most from watching the way he handled a locker room.
“Sometimes, you got to give a little to get a lot from the players,” Lapper noted. “So, we’re going to slowly implement some things that I think are important to make sure the players are in the right mental standpoint and are fit are ready. It’s little things. It’s not huge things.”
Lapper started by having one-on-one player meetings after Friedel’s departure. During these discussions with “70-80 percent of the team,” Lapper sought out feedback while also issuing challenges. To him, the club was at a point where a reset was needed.
The meetings were well-received, with Teal Bunbury noting that “having that open dialogue was important.” Lapper plans to take the advice and institute some changes to the team. This, he hopes, will lead to success like he saw on Saturday.
Of course, Lapper knows that he’s only one game into his tenure. While he’s happy his first game in charge resulted in three points, he knows there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“It feels great,” Lapper said. “I also know it’s just one game and we just got to keep digging and realize what kind of team we are and really find our identity. That’s what I’m hopefully starting to establish and see where it goes.”