Cody Cropper, 21, Gets to Train with the Big Boys
The six-foot-four Minnesota native may play on Southampton's under-21 club, but for now he is in Palo Alto, Calif., training alongside the likes of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedCODY CROPPER WAS was expecting a call. He just wasn't expecting this call. “I was on the bus back from Aston Villa and I had my phone face down on the table,” the Southampton goalkeeper told American Soccer Now. “It started to vibrate and I thought it was my Dad calling me. He normally calls me after games. So I flipped it over and it said, 'Jurgen Klinsmann.' "I thought, ‘This is interesting.’” As it turned out, the United States national team coach wanted the 21-year-old Cropper to join the U.S. national team in Palo Alto, Calif., as it prepared for the 2014 World Cup. Cropper, who started for the U.S. in last year's Under-20 World Cup, was not part of the 30-man provisional roster, but he was going to get a chance to train alongside the best of the best as they prepped for Group G. Yes, he was thrilled. And yes, he is in the Bay Area right now. “It’s really good being [in camp] with the likes of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and even Chris Woods,” the six-foot-four Atlanta native said. “They not only expect you to come in at a high level, the also continue to develop you along the way. If they see something that is not working, they’ll help you.” Cropper made steady progress this season at Southampton. The starting keeper on the club's U-21 team, Cropper also made the senior squad's matchday roster on six separate occasions—although he has yet to make his Premier League debut. In addition, Cropper was called up to the full U.S. national team twice over the past year. The first came in last August’s friendly against Bosnia; the second was in March against the Ukraine. He cherishes the opportunity to learn every time he gets the opportunity. “They’ve helped me with little things like positional adjustment, being confident, playing the ball with my feet, having my hands in a different position, having a higher starting line—it all falls into place,” he said. “With experience it will come. Being with players like that helps you develop.” Like so many great American goalkeepers—including Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Marcus Hahnemann—Cropper has looked to establish his roots in the English system. Southampton clearly value Cropper and are set to offer him an extension to keep him at St. Mary’s for the foreseeable future. Pursuing a career in England is no accident. One of Cropper’s biggest influences in his life has been his father, Joe Cropper, who coached and mentored him growing up. While Cody was raised in the United States by his parents, Joe Cropper is from England and instilled him with a passion for the game at an early age. The elder Cropper noted how, despite his English influence, his son grew up inspired by the great American goalkeepers who came before him. “He’s seen goalkeepers like Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller play and he’s had the opportunity to meet them and speak with them,” Joe Cropper said. “Cody is well aware of the huge influx of American goalkeepers going into Europe. He’s kind of molded himself as wanting to follow in those footsteps." "I think that the big difference for Cody is that he’s [started his English career] at a much younger age. Cody started at 15-and-a-half and he had to do it by himself without his mother and father [around]. He always had the inspiration that if they could do it, so could he. It was a blessing that he had role models like Keller, Friedel, Guzan, Hahnemann, and Howard.” Southampton also appears to be an ideal setup for young players such as Cropper. In 2013-14 the club finished in a very respectable eighth place in the Premier League, and the current coaching staff seems eager to play younger players. Teenagers Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers, and Sam Gallagher all saw significant minutes this past season. Cropper is confident that his debut is coming, and that this club provides the right platform for his development. “Being with this coaching staff, with manager Mauricio Pochettino and goalkeeping coach Toni Jiménez, I think the philosophy they bring has helped me out a lot in developing into more of a goalkeeper that can use his feet and play out into the system they play," Cropper said. "It brings youth into the first team and the way they play has them competing against some of the best teams in the world. Being involved in that is incredible.” U.S. youth technical director Tab Ramos has already said that he hopes that the U.S. U-21 team will play games in Europe this fall, and for Cropper that will likely be his next step in international play. While he admits that he is simply focused on this current camp and beginning the preseason strong with Southampton, he does understand that he is carrying on the tradition of quality—and world-respected—American goalkeepers. “I have to be patient,” Cropper said. “I have to keep working hard and do what I’m doing.” It is unclear when Cropper will get the opportunity to step in and get his opportunity in the Premier League but with a new contract pending, Southampton sees his potential. For Joe Cropper, he knows that whenever Cody gets his chance, he will be ready. “I feel that as Cody has matured as a player, I think he’s become more comfortable in not just his play but the mental aspect of the game,” Joe Cropper said. “I can hear when I have discussions with him that Cody is very at ease with what he is doing. He understands the expectations and what he needs to do." "When the time comes, Cody will be prepared.” Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
May 20, 2014
May 20, 2014