Three players on the Under-20 national team preparing to play in a tournament in Northern Ireland are from metro Atlanta: goalkeeper Cody Cropper and defenders Holden Fender and Walker Zimmerman.
The U.S. team will open the Northern Ireland Milk Cup against Denmark on Saturday and will play Turkey on Monday. The championship game will be Thursday.
This will be the second time two of those players have appeared in the Milk Cup: Zimmerman, who grew up in Lawrenceville and plays at Furman, and Cropper, who grew up in Norcross and Duluth and is training with a team in England.
This will be the debut on the U-20 national team for Fender, who played for Walton High and the Concorde Fire club team and will attend UCLA in the fall. He said he’s fitting in with the squad.
“Any time you get to put on the jersey for the U.S. it’s exciting,” Fender said. “At a tournament like this you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The team arrived in England (Cropper lives near London) earlier in the week and began training at Liverpool’s Academy.
The team has worked different formations, alternating between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, and building chemistry as it prepares for the tournament, which also will feature teams from Ireland, Chile and Mexico.
Along with Fender, there are three other new call-ups in camp, meaning most of the team has played together before.
“I would say, at this stage we’ve been playing soccer long enough that it’s almost like a habit, the way we train and prepare,” Zimmerman said. “We are doing a lot of fitness and getting ready. Now it’s just going over there and doing what you can do. It’s serious, but fun that you could get to play with a bunch of talented guys.”
The players have aspirations of one day joining Cropper as pros. Cropper played for Ipswich Town in England for 2 1/2 years but then opted out of his contract. He is on trial with Southampton, which earned promotion to the Premier League. He said he hopes to receive a contract soon.
“I think I have a good opportunity in front of me,” he said.