BOSTON — It’s probably a stretch to say Mike Lapper is clairvoyant.
But when he predicted in May that the New England Revolution had the quality to make the playoffs, few were willing to jump on that bandwagon.
Less than five months later, Lapper, who served as New England’s assistant coach and then as its interim head coach earlier this season, is sending congratulatory texts to his former players.
The Revolution clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2015 by beating New York City FC 2-0 at Gillette Stadium Sunday night. New England has one regular-season game left — at Atlanta United this Sunday — and could finish as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference.
“I don’t know if vindicated is the right word, but I’m definitely happy for the guys,” Lapper told Pro Soccer USA in a phone interview Monday from his home in Columbus, Ohio. “I knew it would be a challenge for them, but they remained healthy, had a great leader and [head coach] Bruce Arena obviously got the most out of them.
“They didn’t blow me away and I’m not super surprised, just really happy. I texted some of the guys and told them how proud I am and that I knew they could do it. It wasn’t easy. They had to climb out of a big hole.”
Lapper, a former player and assistant coach with Columbus Crew SC, joined the Revolution coaching staff in fall 2017 when Brad Friedel was hired at the helm. But Friedel’s tenure in Foxborough was rocky at best. He missed out on the playoffs in 2018 and got off to a 2-8-2 start this season.
The Revolution fired Friedel in May and dismissed general manager Mike Burns less than a week later. Lapper took over coaching on an interim basis while Arena, who was hired as head coaching and sporting director on May 14, assembled a new coaching staff and started assessing the team.
Lapper coached the Revolution to a 1-0-2 record in competitive matches, a dramatic turnaround for a team that hemorrhaged goals and sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Arena offered Lapper a permanent position on his coaching staff, but Lapper respectfully declined.
“I told [team president] Brian Bilello before I left that it would come down to the last couple of weeks,” Lapper said. “I said, ‘If you get in, it’ll be by a couple of points.’ That proved to be the case. It wasn’t a huge prediction, but I knew it would be close.”
Since Friedel was fired and Arena was hired, the Revolution have gone 8-2-10, meaning they’ve lost only twice in their last 23 regular season games.
Lapper got the ball rolling by helping the locker room recover and move on from Friedel’s firing. Had he not reached the players so quickly, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have locked up the conference’s final playoff berth on Sunday night.
“That’s five points,” Lapper said, referring to his record with the team. “I can’t take all the credit, but it helps. The turnaround had to start at some point, it was just a matter of time. If you take the points they have now and subtract five, that makes a little bit of a difference.”
When asked how he was able to help turn the Revolution’s form, Lapper likened his experience to parenting.
“A parent might say something, and it doesn’t quite click with a kid,” Lapper explained. “And then another parent says the same thing, but in a different way, and it really hits home. Sometimes a different voice saying something that’s been preached for a while can be the difference.
“Confidence is an amazing thing. When you believe in yourself and believe in the guys around you, that fight and team spirit can take you far. There’s no real explanation. You have to be healthy, have good leaders and have a good belief in the system. You have all those elements in that locker room.”
Lapper is looking for his next coaching gig and is open to leading a college program if an MLS opportunity doesn’t arrive. But in the short term, he’s going to continue keeping tabs on the Revolution.
“They can do anything with this,” Lapper said. “They can lose in the first round and be happy with what they’ve done, but I don’t think that’s their mentality. That team can beat anyone in the playoffs.”