This is a write up of an old game I did for the now defunct blog, back in April of 2015. Some additions were made but for the most part, the writeup remains the same.
Like any good US soccer fan, I’ve been tracking the next great bald goalkeeper, Minnesota native Cody Cropper, for a couple of years. In 2013, I watched him make two bizarre blunders in one play against France in the Toulon tournament. Later I saw him struggle against Mexico in the 2013 U20 Championship and tried my best to ignore some late game extracurricular activities. When the U20 World Cup came, he displayed some impressive saves against Ghana but gave up some goals that were head scratchers. He then followed that game by conceding another four goals against Spain, tallying eight in the two first games. He returned to Southampton soon after, where he looked a step behind when they played Chelsea in a 4-1 loss. A year later Cropper opened up against the Brazil U23’s by gifting the opposition with a free goal in the very early minutes of the match. So needless to say, when I heard he played great against Mexico in the #tresacero match, I was anxious to watch the highlights.
Some great saves to stunt the Mexican attack but what can we learn from the outing? Let’s take a look at three plays in the game.
0:33 - Cropper correctly skips his eyes ahead on the cross and is ready for the header. The header never comes so he takes shorts strides with his feet in rhythm to set himself for the next shot. As the shot comes, his hands hiccup, a result of habitually throwing your hands forward and slightly upward as the shot comes. He gets down for the save - a very good one at that - but the redirection in hand movement is not ideal. Goalkeepers should look to minimize excessive movement as much as they can as this is a good example of it.
3:15 - This play is similar in execution as the early save but with opposite implications. Watch as his hands go from thighs-to-textbook position (in front, holding an invisible ball) and then back to his thighs. While this would technically count as “excessive movement”, the reason he is doing this is, most likely, because he is trying to break a bad habit and start a good one. Ideally, the hands are in front for the pre-shot set so he only has to move his arms to make the save, not his arms and hands. His alternating between right and wrong shows their is a mental battle going on to be keen on correct technique. The resulting save has nothing to do with his hands, but it’s still a very good sign for development. However, the other thing to note on the play is that he hardly gets off the ground to make the save. This is a result of diving with just your upper body and lacking, in this case, and shuffle and a spring.
3:55 - An excessive high line on crossing situations causes more problems than solves them and we see Cropper backpedal to the goal to find the correct position. The scramble in the box pulls and hesitates Cropper, an expected movement given the circumstance. The bouncing ball is redirected by a head and the goalkeeper’s best attribute comes into action: strength. He dives, not falls, with one leg to keep the shutout. Is it correct technique? Definitely not. His right leg should not collapse on such a wide shut. But is it a phenomenal save that he can build off of? Absolutely if he is mindful of working on his technique.
The US U20s and U17s have historically struggled to field goalkeepers that go on to have successful careers. The USYNTs rely on pure athleticism to hold down the fort, which we have seen time and time again isn’t enough. The big question for Cropper now is where does he go from here? Optimism points to the fact that Cropper, still only 22, has years to develop and is clearly improving in a multitude of ways. The flip side is doubtful that he can successfully adhere to correct technique and not solely rely on his strength. Still, the hope that a bald man starts for the USMNT is a strong possibility for now.
Update: Cropper has signed with the New England Revolution after being released by MK Dons, where he had a polarizing time for fans. Some ups and some downs, both seen below.