The change paid dividends nearly immediately. Through the first seven games of the year, Small had nearly as many assists (4) as he had goals (5).
Small said he patterns his game after Zinedine Zidane. And if you take a moment to watch highlights of the French master craftsman that don't involve head butts, you'd see the similarities.
They both have an economy of motion that belies their skill. They are both just as likely to make a highlight pass as a goal rattling shot. And when they have the ball in the middle of the field, they have excellent vision and timing for their passes. (Much like the legendary Pistol Pete's floor presence in basketball for those that need an analogy.)
Lichaa isn't the only person to take notice of Small's skill.
"As strange as it sounds," Harry Small, Michael's father, said. "People will come up to us and say, 'We came all the way from Mount Sterling just to see your kid.' Well, who are you? How do you know about my son?"
It's a puzzling development but one that tells Harry and his wife, Kellie, just how good their son is.
"So, as a parent, you're proud," Harry said. "Michael's not kidding around."
He's a long way from the tiny kid who started out playing flag football and then tried out soccer to see if he was any good at it.
When Harry was stationed in Hawaii, Michael played against other bases and consistently scored three or four goals a game. Those performances prompted advice for Harry from other parents.
"You need to keep that kid in soccer," they would tell the Smalls.
When the family moved back stateside, Michael did stay in soccer. As a 6th-grader, Michael tried out for a soccer team, which Harry said he thought was a club team. He didn't realize Micheal was trying out for East's JV team. And he made it, as a starter.
In his first game, Michael scored off a corner kick.
He was so small, his dad jokingly nicknamed him, "Biggie." And after a growth spurt, the ironic nickname theme struck again, and now his teammates call him, "Smalls."
"It just rolls off the tongue," Michael explained.
Harry said his son has already learned how to lose, and now he's learning to win, thanks to Lichaa.
"He brought so much more than showing them how to win," Harry said. "He brought their confidence back."
Small hopes to finish his senior year and continue playing soccer through college, and if possible, beyond. The sport is a major part of his life.
"I touch a soccer ball, probably about everyday," Michael said. "I watch it on weekends when I can, if I'm not hanging out with friends. I go play by myself sometimes just to shoot around, maybe work on some stuff."