Cody Cropper Officially Signs with Ipswich Town FC – Finally!
The journey has been a long one for Cody Cropper, a goalkeeper from Maple Grove, Minnesota. Cropper, still 6 months shy of 18, has finally found a home after two arduous years of clubs, teams, trials and thousands of miles traveled. The 6’4″, 215 lb. keeper signed with Ipswich Town FC early last May, but his international clearance (ITC) had not been approved until Thursday of last week. With papers cleared by the English FA, USSF and FIFA, the team can now officially roster him for games. Cropper played in an Academy team game last Saturday where he earned a 2-2 draw with Leeds and is scheduled to be on the bench of the Reserve team this Tuesday.
“When I heard my ITC finally cleared I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Cropper from Ipswich, where he now resides. “But getting on the team is the easy part. This is when all the hard work starts.”
Perhaps that’s true, but Cropper should be up to the task. He hasn’t exactly had a cakewalk the last 24 months. “That’s a very difficult experience,” said Cropper’s agent Tom Bagley of Long View Management. “I’ve seen a number of adults not able to handle what Cody has been through the last couple of years. Not only has he handled it, he has grown and matured along the way.”
Cropper signed a 2-year deal, the first year being a scholar contract and the 2nd year, which he will sign in February when he turns 18, will be a pro contract.
Cropper’s story starts with his father Joe, who’s a native of England. Joe grew up playing soccer in England and spent some time at the professional level in the US. Of course the elder Cropper encouraged his son to play soccer and has helped Cody by finding opportunities to play at higher levels. “To be honest, he probably knows me better than I do myself,” said the junior Cropper speaking of his father. “He’s a very good coach and picks up on a lot of little things that players may not realize.”
Just 2 years ago Cody was entering his freshman year at Maple Grove High School where he finished the season making All State Honorable Mention. He had previously played for Wings SC and Bangu, two high-level clubs in the Twin Cities that eventually merged to become the Minnesota Thunder Academy.
In the spring of ’08, his father enrolled Cody with USL Super Y team Reading Rage in Pennsylvania. Cropper and his team had a good season and he made the 2008 Super Y-League Select Team and was one of the top-rated players in USL’s Super Y-League ODP system which earned him a trip to England to train with West Ham.
Cropper was signed up to play with the Minnesota Thunder Academy the following summer but also made several trips to England for tryouts with numerous clubs including Arsenal, Birmingham, Portsmouth, West Ham and Wolverhampton. His best trial was with Wolverhampton who invited Cropper back for a third trial in February of ’09. But that third trial never happened as Cropper was called up to the US U-17 Residency program in Bradenton, Florida. While flattering, Cody soon became frustrated in a system where he never broke through the pecking order of 4th keeper and never saw competitive matches.
“Bradenton was good,” said Cropper. “It was fast-paced and good training. I liked the coaches a lot but I just didn’t get my chances to play.”
Cropper left the Residency program in the summer break of ’09. Cropper and his father decided to try again in the senior Cropper’s home country. Leicester had heard of Cropper’s trial at Wolverhampton and were interested in seeing the young keeper. Cropper had a good trial with Wolves and the English club offered to sign the young Cropper to a 2-year contract.
Cropper returned to Minnesota for the later part of the summer and in August and part of September last year trained goalkeepers at DeLa Salle High School in Minneapolis, MN.
Cropper returned to England to train with Leicester, but technical snafus in the paperwork meant that Leicester would have to wait a bit longer to get Cropper signed. The first division club eventually ran out of patience and released the young keeper.
Disappointment didn’t deter Cropper. He landed yet another trial last winter with Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town FC.
Just like everything else for Cropper, this trial wasn’t easy. “I think I was here for about 5 or 6 weeks before they made a decision,” said Cropper. “The first 3 or 4 weeks it seemed like it was pouring rain every day. In fact we even had a lot of snow. It seemed every Saturday we were supposed to play there would be a lot of rain. A number of times the matches were called because the pitches were soggy with rain or frozen because we ended up with a couple of feet of snow. After those 4 or 5 weeks I finally got my chance to play. When they saw me in a game it influenced them to make a decision in my favor.”
Cropper says he enjoys the training sessions at Ipswich where he trains alongside the senior keepers. He says Keane observes part of the goalkeeper training almost every day and occasionally joins in on training with the team.
“You’re paid to play football,” said Cropper who suddenly turns serious. “That’s what your job is over here. When you’re not doing your job Mr. Keane can be very intense at times. But he can also banter about with the players and have fun. You’re job isn’t to just kick a football around, have fun and not take it seriously. You’re getting paid to pull out results and that’s what you are expected to do.”
Cody Cropper admits he has always been a good matchday keeper but needed to improve on his intensity in training. Joe Cropper says that perhaps is the area where Cody has most improved this past year. “I think even in the last 3 or 4 months I’ve picked up a new aggression, a new personality in training,” said Cody Cropper. “I look at goalkeepers like Brian Murphy, Arran Lee-Barrett and our new signing Márton Fülöp and they go into training with the mentality that nothing is getting by them and that training is just as important at matches. I think I’m starting to pick that up and bring that into my own personality.”
The seasoning, the disappointments, the adversity seemed to have pushed young Cropper along when others may have folded along the way. One thing that may have aided him is his grandmother Dorothy Cropper, who is a resident of Coventry. Cropper has lived with his grandmother for long periods of time while in England and tries to get back to her house for weekends whenever possible.
“I think that one of the biggest reasons for me being able to cope with being away from my original home and my parents is my grandmother,” said Cropper. “Growing up, my grandmother lived with us. I always looked at her as one of my best friends. To this day she is like a second mother to me. She’s told me many times she’s one of my biggest fans and always will be no matter what. I believe she is a major reason for my success.”
Cody says he traveled to England as a youth but never became totally acclimated to English life until the last two years. Because of his previous trials, this time he was able to focus on his football and not on the food or cultural differences: “It was a much easier transition this time because of that. I didn’t have to think about all that stuff. I could just switch my brain onto football and not concern myself with anything else. In doing that I was able to focus on this opportunity to change my life and it really worked.”
While Cropper knew that he could hurt his future chances to play for the US Men’s National Team by leaving Bradenton, it was a risk he and his father knew he had to take. In early May, around the same time that Cropper signed his contract with Ipswich, he was called back to the US National Team. This time onto Thomas Rongen’s U-20 Men’s team to play in the Cor Groenewegan Tournament. Rongen has gone on record recently as saying the US is at a point where he only wants professional players on his teams.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to show how much I’ve progressed since I’ve been with the U-17 National Team,” said a confident Cropper. “I feel like I’m really ready this time. I think when I was in the U-17 camp I took it a little for granted and I’m not sure I was up to the pace at that time. Now that I’ve been training with Ipswich first team I’ll be a bit faster and better with my technical ability and more confident in my decision making and my playmaking.”
With the U-20 World Cup coming in 2011, Cropper has been called into the US Men’s U-20 camp again for a trip to South America. Cropper, who says his Ipswich team is supportive of his time with the U-20’s, will leave for his grandmother’s house on Tuesday in preparation for the trip. He will fly out to meet the team in Miami, Florida on Wednesday. The team will take part in a tournament held in Peru from September 6th through the 10th playing Paraguay, Colombia and Peru. The squad is made up of pros from Mexican, European and US squads.
Cropper says there have been some good moments over the last 2 years, especially his time spent with Ipswich. His most memorable of all was a match last spring when he played against Leicester, the team that gave up on Cropper. Ipswich beat the Foxes 3-2 and Cropper saved a penalty to assure the win. “I had a little extra intensity in my game and I think I was more focused than I’ve ever been,” said Cropper. You could almost hear the smile as he described the play. Who said revenge can’t be sweet?