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Mike Lapper calls Cristian Penilla “one of the better players in the league”

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Lapper had a meeting with Penilla before reinstating him to the starting lineup.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Lapper is expecting big things from Cristian Penilla.

Lapper became the New England Revolution’s interim head coach after Brad Friedel was fired on Thursday. Two days later, he had to put together his first starting lineup. One interesting inclusion was Penilla, who didn’t make the 18 for Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Fire.

In fact, Penilla has been in and out of the lineup this season, which was unexpected since the Ecuadorian nabbed 12 goals and seven assists during his first year in MLS. Knowing that his team needs Penilla at his best, Lapper sat down with him ahead of Saturday’s match.

“I had a meeting with him and Marcelo [Neveleff], and we talked,” Lapper said. “I told him that I need him and I think that he needs us a little bit at this time because he was dropped and he wasn’t even in the 18 last game.”

The meeting went well enough that Lapper felt comfortable giving Penilla his first start since Apr. 13. The attacker performed well, as he contributed a goal and assist in 79 minutes.

Of course, this is just one performance. Lapper knows that he needs to continue to motivate Penilla so that he’s playing at his best. If he does this, Lapper believes he will have “one of the better players in the league.”

“Once he’s motivated and he plays like today, he’s a person who can just put games on his back and he can take people on and he’s incredibly gifted,” Lapper noted. “It’s just a matter of keeping him motivated and that’s what we got to do. That’s obviously our job as a coaching staff.”