BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, March 11, 2011
With the U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament fast approaching, one player who is peaking at the right time is Ipswich goalkeeper Cody Cropper who is now starting for the club's reserve team.
Cropper, 18, had been starting for Ipswich's U-18 team but last month he was informed that he would start for the club's reserve team in a match against Oxford.
"Yeah it caught me by surprise to be honest," Cropper told YA. "It's a shock when you have three experienced goalkeepers in front of you and then you get the call-up for a big rivalry game. Adrenalin shoots through your system right away and it doesn't leave for awhile."
In his reserve debut, Cropper posted a shutout in a 3-0 win in the game against Oxford. While also playing with the U-18s, two weeks later Cropper earned another call-up to the reserves in a game against arch-rivals Norwich. That game would also be a victory for Cropper as Ispwich won 2-1 with the only goal for Norwich coming off a penalty.
"I was happy with my performances," Cropper asserted. "I made some good decisions. My communication and my distribution were all good. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. I've been playing for the reserves and the U-18s as well."
Cropper's rise within the Ipswich organization has seen him move closer to his goal of becoming a member of the club's first team and Cropper is confident he is not far off.
"I've been training with the first team more and more the past few weeks," Cropper said of his situation at Ipswich. "I've had a good few weeks of play. Hopefully I can carry that forward the rest of this season, into next season, and maybe get involved with the first team on match days. It's definitely on my mind. It's got to be. Any player needs to be aiming for the first team. But things have to happen for that to happen."
By training with the first team, Cropper has been there to witness the recent coaching change when Paul Jewell was hired in January after Roy Keane was fired.
"Since Paul Jewell came it, I think is been a great a change with the attitude around the training ground," Cropper pointed out. "Everybody is happy but it's not that Roy Keane did anything wrong. Paul Jewell is a great [coach] and he has a lot of promotions under his belt. Hopefully maybe next season we can get into the playoffs or the top two for automatic promotion."
Cropper's run of good play will be a boost to the US U-20 team which will begin its World Cup qualifying campaign at the end of March. Cropper has been named to the US roster and is excited for the opportunity.
"It's a great opportunity to play for the US in World Cup qualifying," Cropper said proudly. "I am looking forward to the challenge but for the next few weeks I just have to keep focused on keeping form. It's always something to look forward to but you have to focus on tomorrow and the next day. When it comes it will be a great opportunity."
The format of this U-20 World Cup qualifying in Guatemala for the CONCACAF region is structured so that teams that advance from group play must play in a winner-take-all quarterfinal game where the winners advance to the World Cup and the losers do not. Cropper knows the team will be ready for that big game.
"It's always going to be high pressure," Cropper insisted. "It's part of the job. We train everyday and we just have to come out and show that. We've been working for this our whole lives."
One of the reasons why Cropper is confident is that he feels US U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen will have the team prepared for the tournament.
"Coach Rongen knows what he's doing," Cropper affirmed."He definitely does because he's a great coach and I've experienced that being with him for the last six months. He's a top quality coach in my opinion and there is definitely a lot of talent on this team."
On the US team, Cropper will be joined by Philadelphia Union's Zac MacMath as the two keepers for qualifying.
"I met [Zac] in January and we got along very well," Cropper said of MacMath. "We both have the same competitiveness. He's a very talented goalkeeper and you can see that in his training techniques."
Cropper's big physical frame including his 6'4" height and 6'6" wingspan make him one of the top goalkeeping prospects in US soccer. While he is widely expected to be the starting keeper for the US U20 team in the 2013 cycle for which he is also eligible, Cropper feels he can challenge the older MacMath this cycle for the top spot.
"There is definitely going to be that drive from me to win over that number one spot." Cropper concluded. "I've always wanted to play in a World Cup at any level. I can't really say I will just play in the next cycle because you never know what will happen. I won't give up until coach Mulqueen and coach Rongen sit me down and say ‘you're going in as the number two for the World Cup.'"
"I still won't even give up then. It's just the way I was raised. To fight for what I want and that's what I want."