FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Cody Cropper yearned for consistent games.
Now that he's got them with the New England Revolution, he's setting his sights even higher.
The former US youth international landed with New England last summer, putting an end to a frustrating spell in England then winning the starting job ahead of the 2017 campaign. His next goals? Keeping hold of that job and catching the eye of Bruce Arena and the rest of the senior national team coaching staff, which includes longtime Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis.
“My goal first and foremost is to be playing only to hope it catches Bruce’s eye, catches Matt’s eye, catches anyone’s eye in the national team,” Cropper said. “Then I can get that call-up and go in and perform there, because I want to play for my country. It’s a huge honor. It’s something I want to do at the men’s level, but you can only focus on the here and the now.”
It would be no small feat to beat out established veterans like Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando, not to mention up-and-comers such as David Bingham, Bill Hamid and Ethan Horvath, but with two senior caps already under his belt and an MLS starting job to boot, things are already looking rosier for Cropper than they did at this time last year.
He’d developed at Southampton of the English Premier League, training alongside goalkeepers such as Fraser Forster, now an England international. Then came a spell with MK Dons of England’s second division, but 90 minutes were still hard to come by.
Enter the New England Revolution, who signed Cropper on Aug. 18, 2016, ending what goalkeeper coach Remi Roy said was a three-year courtship. Now, in the early stages of the 2017 season, the 24-year-old has emerged as the Revs’ starter and found stability.
“For me at Southampton, it’s one of the best academies in the world, so it was a great place to go and develop every part of my game,” Cropper said. “Now coming back, MLS offers games. You get consistent game time.”
Cropper, a Minnesota native and former starter for the US Under-23 side, took inspiration from a few fellow Americans went to Europe early in their careers, only to find new beginnings Stateside.
He referenced Sebastian Lletget, a midfielder for the LA Galaxy who started his pro career with West Ham United of the Premier League. Then, with minutes scarce, the 24-year-old signed with the Galaxy in May 2015, since earning a starting role and scoring in the US national team’s recent 6-0 win over Honduras in World Cup qualifying before an ill-timed injury sidelined him for the majority of 2017.
Cropper also cited Marc Pelosi, a midfielder for the San Jose Earthquakes spent time in Liverpool’s youth system. For Jay Heaps, the Revs’ head coach, these opportunities for Cropper and his compatriots are vital, even if the trend isn’t new.
“[These players] have developed very well, so now they need first-team minutes,” Heaps said. “It’s just whether they find it in the lower leagues in Europe or find an MLS team here that gives them a shot. Because they have a higher profile here in the US, they get that chance. Lletget is a perfect example of someone who was getting time, but it was more reserves. Then he came to MLS and really took off.”
If all goes to plan, Roy said, Cropper will also take off because he has “room to grow.” To do that, Cropper said he’ll embrace competition from Brad Knighton and Matt Turner, New England’s second and third-string goalkeepers, respectively. Considering that Roy has had conversations with Reis about Cropper’s potential role on the national team, another goalkeeping competition may not be far off.