Competition Springs Confidence in Kreis Lead Lions

“You play how you practice.”

It’s an age-old saying said – or shouted – by every coach from youth levels to the pros. And Jason Kreis seems to be a firm believer.

The difference in the intensity level during training since Kreis took over is shocking. Today, the head coach paused a situational scrimmage drill to bark corrections at the back line before commending midfielder Servando Carrasco on a smart defensive play. 

The players finished training, but they weren’t done yet. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder in the sweltering midday sun, and started running sprints. Only then was their work done – outside, at least. 

“[They’re] really hard,” defender David Mateos said of Kreis’ training sessions. “Every player wants to show their quality and he pushes us so many times to train hard. 

“If you don’t train hard, you don’t play.”

Kreis used last Wednesday’s match against Stoke City as an opportunity to evaluate his team – top to bottom – and said that, plus his evaluation from the week of training, would decide the lineup going into Sunday’s game against New England.

He deployed his 4-4-2 formation with MLS All-Stars Kaká and Cyle Larin up top, Brek Shea and Kevin Molino on the wings and Carrasco and, rather surprisingly, Antonio Nocerino in the middle. 

“I’ll be frank, I didn’t come here last week thinking that [Nocerino] would start [against New England]. I clearly did not,” Kreis said after the match. “But he’s a player that in the training session on Tuesday and in the match on Wednesday and in the training session again on Friday earned his spot. I think he had a really nice performance.”

The at times maligned Italian admitted Thursday that he “painted a bad picture” of himself for the supporters. That’s changing under Kreis, though. Nocerino put in 78 hard minutes and helped the Lions climb out of a 1-0 hole into a 2-1 lead. His performance earned him a standing ovation from the 27,768 in attendance.

“It was very important for me,” Nocerino said of the praise through an interpreter. “It bothered me that I haven’t been able to prove what I can do in my first couple of months.  

“It’s not a new start,” he said when asked if it was that was Kreis bringing about the team’s new outlook. “The only difference is there’s more confidence and more belief in the team.”

The confidence comes, not just from the win, but from the visible improvements the Lions are making every day. Kreis has said at every opportunity that he sees his team grasping their new tactics. And with a playoff spot at their fingertips, there’s that much more motivation to leave it on the training grounds.

“That’s the best part of football,” Mateos said. “If you train hard, you play.