Five years ago, Cody Cropper left Minnesota for an uncertain future playing professional soccer in England. Before anyone else knew him, Minnesota soccer media (aka our own Brian Quarstad) were covering his exploits. After signing with Ipswitch Town, then moving to Southampton, Cropper’s star has only risen.
He now is the clear first choice for the US U-23 National Team heading into Olympic qualifying later this year. After being released from Southampton, the 22 year old has signed with newly promoted English Championship side MK Dons, where he has a strong chance of earning crucial first team minutes and continuing his development.
We were able to get in touch with Cody after training this week, and spoke with him in a wide ranging interview about the latest twists and turns in his growing career.
Hey, Cody, thanks for speaking with us! Lets start off with the end of last season. What are your thoughts on being released from Southampton?
Cody Cropper: I think it’s for the best in my career. It’s always tough to leave a club after you’ve played with for three years, and move away from the guys that you’ve developed a relationship with. But I think that the move away from there is definitely better for me because I’m at a club now where I’m working to earn game time, pushing to earn game time. And at Southampton, the reality of that wasn’t very high.
Why MK Dons?
CC: Not only myself, but my parents and my agent think that this club is the best fit for me. The opportunity here is better than anywhere else. And there were a lot of things to take into consideration. But at the end of the day, this is the best place for me. But this is an opportunity for me to use everything I’ve learned over the last three years with Southampton, over the last two years with the men’s team, over the last five years with the US Youth National Teams.
You’re going to be competing with longtime club legend David Martin, who has nearly 200 appearances with MK Dons. How do you view the challenge of competing with a player like that?
CC: I think that Dave is a very good goalkeeper. But at the end of the day, my job is to play. That’s what I get paid for. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to play as many games as possible. As often as I can. And the only way that I know how to do that is to keep my head down, work hard, improve in every session that I can, and treat every session as my last. You know, this life is not guaranteed. And I want to play as high as I can for as long as I can. To work hard at that is the only way to go. That’s how I was raised.
What’s your perspective on MK Dons’ overall chances of staying in the Championship?
CC: Very high. I think that we’re coming off a very good run last season. They finished second in the league, they did very well. League One and the Championship are very hard leagues, you’re constantly playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. But with already having experienced that, there are a lot of player who will be able to help myself and the other new players get used to it. I like that the team that we have, with the experience, with the youth, with the coaches, I think that we’ll be very good.
Brief tangent, but what is Milton Keynes like? It’s kind of a weird town, isn’t it?
CC: No—it’s not an old city like most of the cities in the country, but it’s a very modern city, it’s very nice. It’s more American than most cities here are because it’s so modern—like most American cities. It does bring a certain “homeyness” to me. To me that’s a good thing because I’m looking for a place that I can settle and advance my career.
Pivoting from club to country, you’ve been called up to a few senior national team camps this past year, but haven’t been named to the eighteen. What do you get out of a USMNT camp if you don’t play?
CC: Experience. Being around players like Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, you know these players that are experienced. For young players like myself who aren’t playing or even players like DeAndre [Yedlin] who are playing. We can still learn off them and their attitude and how they work and look at how they dissect and interpret each situation. It’s an opportunity to play with the best players coming out of America at the end of the day, you’ve got to take all you can out of that.
You feel you’ve really gotten a lot out of it—
CC: Yeah. Working with Jürgen [Klinsmann] and Chris Wood and the goalkeepers that I’ve worked with has been very good for my career. It’s helped me not only on the technical and tactical side of things, but also mentally, because you know, Tim Howard and Brad and all those guys helped me through tough times and helped me through good times, on and off the field, whether I’m in camp or out of camp, they’re always available to talk. Jürgen is always available, Woods is always available, I can call Tim or call Brad if I need to, or call Nick. And so it’s a very good situation for me, and one that I hope, you know, I hope to keep those relationships going.
Are you alluding a bit to your head injury earlier this year?
CC: Yeah, absolutely. Jürgen was on the phone, Chris was on the phone, Andreas Herzog [the U-23 coach] was on the phone the day after, or two days after it happened. They were all wondering what was going on, seeing how I felt, wondering what the doctors were saying, etcetera. And those are all good people and people that actually care.
What are your thoughts now on that injury? How do you look back on it and can you get any positives out of it?
CC: You know, I think it’s kind or hit or miss with regards to that. I’ve had two knee surgeries now, I’ve torn ligaments, and I think injuries like that are going to happen. At the age that I’m at now, I’ve learned how to deal with them and not jump the gun and recover, not to push myself at the wrong time. After that injury I don’t think it affected me as much as it would with other players. I think that I was able to channel all that anger towards that injury and when I came back I used that to get fit and get back into the squad at Southampton and get back to where I was before. It helped push me on to where I am now.
Who is the goalkeeper, or the player who you most look up to? American or otherwise.
CC: Kelvin Davis had a massive impact on my career. I think he helped me through a lot there. He would always invite me over to his house for dinner, or take me under his wing at training if I had a bad session, or help talk me through times when things weren’t OK. He was always there in bad times and always there in good times. I still talk with him and I still talk with Fraser [Forster], quite regularly, because I bonded with them, bonded with Kelvin over the past three years and Fraser over the past year, and I think they’re both very good people, and I hope they’d say the same about me.
Lets think back to your last games with the U-23 national team and the tournament you played in France, the Toulon Tournament. How do you feel about the overall performance of the team and the overall experience?
CC: The experience was unbelievable for us. Playing against players who are playing in the top leagues in the world is an unbelievable experience for us. I think what we learned over the past year, year and a half, will help us build into our September camp and ultimately into qualifying for the Olympics.
How about your own play?
CC: Well, you know, I made a mistake. But you know, everybody makes mistakes. A lot of people were slating me for it, making crude comments about it. They can all say that, but every goalkeeper, every player, every coach, every person makes mistakes. It’s not the mistake that matters, it’s how you react to the mistake. After that mistake, I think I bounced back very quickly, and I think that the rest of the tournament went very well for our team. Before my mistake, other players were making mistakes. I think that it took—maybe it didn’t take that mistake, but when I made my mistake for us, it took that split second for everyone to think, ‘we all make mistakes, and now we need to bounce back as a team’. I think we did that very well. We bounced back in that game and eventually made it into the third place game, where we beat England.
Of course goalkeeper is the one position where your mistakes mean a goal for the other team.
CC: Yeah, exactly. You make a mistake in goal and you get punished. Yeah I’ve made my share of mistakes, but who hasn’t? People can sit there and crucify me for it, or they can accept that they’ve made plenty of mistakes. And that’s how it is. Part of being a professional athlete is that it happens and you need to get on with life.
On the flip side, your game against Mexico was nearly flawless. What did you think about that?
CC: That was an unbelievable experience, to beat Mexico 3-0 on home soil. I think the team defended well in that game. We dealt with pressure that they put on us in the first half, and in the second half we started well and got one, two, three goals, and went on to win the game.
In a general sense where do you think you as a player have improved over time? Your strengths? Your weaknesses?
CC: It’s hard to talk strengths and weaknesses. But one of the things I’ve most improved on the most in the last couple years is on the mental side of things. Many coaches and players don’t understand that your mind is… …almost your biggest muscle in the game. Everybody focuses on developing the body, developing their first touch and so on. I’ve done a lot of work in the past three years in developing the mental side of my game.
What kind of work?
CC: Work with my dad, work with people my agents have passed me on to, just mentally becoming tougher. Not letting mistakes like the one in the Netherlands game get to you, not letting mistakes in training ruin the whole session. A lot of people don’t understand how mistakes can affect the rest of your game. As a goalkeeper, you can concede one, two, three more goals in twenty minutes if you’re still getting over a mistake. As a goalkeeper, if you make a mistake, you need to bounce right back.
Looking forward, how do you rate your U-23’s chance in Olympic qualifying?
CC: I think that our U-23s are in a very good spot. I think that we have some phenomenal players. We have guys like DeAndre and John Brooks who have senior team minutes, if they play, we have guys who have been with the U-23s the whole way like Wil Trapp, Walker Zimmerman, like Benji Joya. These are players who are going to help us through the qualifying and hopefully we’re going to get to the Olympics. I think that we’ve got a very deep squad. No matter who the coaches select, we don’t control that, but even with a smaller squad, we’re going to come together and play hard for the US.
Speaking of the US, talk to us about your Minnesota roots.
CC: You know, I was born in Georgia. I grew up in Atlanta, lived there until I was twelve. But my mom is from Minnesota, and that’s why we moved. I don’t really say one is home and one is not. But Minnesota was great, for me and for my mom and my sister at the time. Being there was probably one of the best things for me, I bonded with that side of the family and every summer when I’m back I go to Minnesota. There are four or so friends I have from high school who I still talk to on a daily basis. I have my friends and family there, and that’s home for me.
Minnesota has never really been known as a soccer state. What’s your perspective on how the state and the sport intertwine?
CC: It’s tough, like you said, Minnesota is known as a hockey state. But soccer is growing in Minnesota, like in the rest of the United States, and like everywhere else, people are embracing that fact that not everything is going to be just American sports. You know, living abroad has really opened my eyes to the fact that we really only play the sports that we created and don’t take on anything else. That’s really something about being American. We play American football, and I love American football, but nobody else in the world plays it. I think soccer is becoming a sport that kids really want to play and it’s an amazing sport, and it opens so many doors.
All of that said, you did go to a Minnesota United game, and lo and behold, there were 9,500 people, a sellout, packing the stadium, cheering on this team. What was that like? That’s pretty new for Minnesota, how did you feel about that?
CC: You know that was the first game I’ve been to in six years, back when they were the Minnesota Thunder. I was there on behalf of Miguel [Ibarra], he invited me out to watch his last game. We flew home together and he got me some field passes. I thought it was a great experience for me, to speak to a lot of the players, the owner, the CEO, and sow the seeds for the future. It was a great turnout for Miguel’s last game. A big crowd, and it was a great experience.
One final question; at the end of this year, what’s your goal? Where do you expect to be?
CC: I expect to be here. I expect to be playing first team. I expect to be doing what I’m, in my eyes, born to do, playing soccer. I want to fit into a club like Kelvin Davis, who has several hundred appearances for Southampton, like David Martin has here, like Steven Gerrard did. That’s not this year anymore, that’s ten to fifteen years down the road. I hope this is the team that allows me to do that.
Thanks so much for speaking with us.
CC: Thank you very much!
Thanks for reading!