CROPPER TAKING OFF WITH SAINTS
After spending the last three seasons developing his game at Ispwich, US U-20 goalkeeper Cody Copper is ready for the challenge of a Premier League club after joining Southampton.
Cropper, 19, signed a two year contract with a club option for an additional year with newly promoted Southampton last month after a successful trial.
Already he is training regularly with the club's first team and he expects to be the starter for Southampton's U-21 team in the new U-21 Premier League.
"I think it's a huge step," Copper told YA. "Being at a Premiership club there is a lot more pressure but there's also a lot more opportunity for me to grow as a player. With the Under 21 league, I can play with players my own age. I've been pushing into the first team already. It's been [seven] weeks and it's going really well. It's going to be a challenge."
The first half of 2012 was difficult for Cropper as he began the year recovering from knee surgery he underwent last December. While he was able to return to action by March, he missed a lot of time and struggled to return to his preinjury ability.
Cropper now insists that he his knee feels "perfect" and he ready to continue to move forward with his career at a high level. Cropper stands tall at 6'4 and currently weighs 220 pounds. While he was injured, he worked hard in the gym to improve his physical strength.
"I feel like I'm in a really good form," Cropper said. "I'm starting to find my rhythm again. After my injury last year, I struggled to find it. I think that carried over into my internationals with the US U-20s in South America because I wasn't playing consistently. Now that I'm here, I've found a rhythm because they've showed they wanted to sign me."
After parting ways with Ipswich, one of major reasons why Southampton was an ideal club to join is because of their high-level U-21 team. As a young keeper, one of the things Cropper believes is essential to his development is consistent playing time.
Right now, Kelvin Davis is the club's top goalkeeper and he will be turning 36 later this month. After Davis, Southampton has Cropper and 20 year old Argentine Paulo Gazzaniga as the backups.
Right now, Cropper's situation at Southampton allows him to both play for the U-21 team and challenge Gazzaniga to be the club's second choice behind Davis.
"Being an U21 EPL goalkeeper is a very good opportunity for me to get a full season of games under my belt," Davis said. "Potentially if I play well, I can push into the first team. Training with Kelvin Davis has been great and I can learn a lot from him. He has a unique style and I can learn a lot from him."
On the international front, Cropper is the backbone of the US U-20 national team. The team already has several players who are currently earning regular first team minutes with their clubs. In MLS, the Galaxy's Jose Villareal and Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil are key contributors to their clubs.
In Europe, Birmingham City's Will Packwood, Hertha Berlin's John Anthony Brooks, and Stabaek's Sean Cunningham are all on their respective club's first teams despite being only teenagers. Other players such as Cropper, Stuttgart's Jerome Kiesewetter, and the Liverpool duo of Marc Pelosi and Villyan Bijev have signed professional contracts.
The challenge now for US U-20 head coach Tab Ramos will be to get all of his key players released because many of the top players have yet to even play in a single camp together.
Next year for U-20 World Cup qualifying, it is unlikely that players who are part of the first team for European clubs will be released since the games are on the FIFA international calendar and clubs are not required to allow their players to go.
If the team makes it to the World Cup in Turkey next summer, Ramos will be able to get his top player and Cropper feels that there could be enough talent to contend next year.
"I think we can compete with the top teams in the world if we can get our top players together," Cropper concluded. "If you miss one player, you can't play the same formation that you would. You're playing players out of position. The potential in the group is unbelievable but we have to harness that potential and put it into a system where we can play together."