Odisnel Cooper is widely known as one of the elite goalkeepers in the USL, including being a 2015 Goalkeeper of the Year finalist. This season he has split time with Atlanta United’s loanee, Alex Tambakis of Greece. I was able to catch up with the fan favorite, “El Gato” or “Super Cooper”, to talk about this year’s season for Charleston, his upcoming wedding, and the growth of the league.
You guys are having another great season. How is the club able to be so consistently successful every year?
First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to share a little bit more about me.
Everything and everyone in the club is focused on the well-being of the players. You know if the players are happy, there has to be success. They try to keep us happy, taking care of everything around us, so we are focused on our main mission.
This year you’ve split time with Atlanta United loanee Alex Tambakis. What advice have you given the young keeper?
It’s been hard, especially when you’re used to playing every single game of the season. But I have learned that it’s not about me, but about the team. If the team needs me, I will be ready. I didn’t know how prideful I was until I had to watch the first four games of the season from the bench. After the first game of the season, I went home and cried. I think I needed that. God is using the situation to teach me how to be a servant, and not to think only about me.
Well you’re always telling me that I look like an old man [laughs], but Alex and I are the same age. So, if you say that he’s young, so am I [laughs]!
I always try to tell him what I know about the teams we have faced. For example, Richmond Kickers like to score from crosses, so I tell him to be ready for that.
On the other side, what have you learned this year?
This year, I have learned a lot, especially to be patient. It’s hard for every player to be on the bench, and this is a new experience for me. But, I have learned how to support the team even when I’m not on the pitch. It’s easy when things go your way, but what forms our character is when things are not going our way, and we are still trusting God and being positive. In the end, you realize that we are blessed and that we are living our dream.
Who are the attackers you hate facing the most?
Honestly, I haven’t even thought about that, but in past seasons every time I played against Orlando City, I felt a little something in my belly. (Before they moved up to the MLS)
What will it take for you guys to take home a USL championship this year?
It will take courage, because we know we already have the talent. It will take for us to be united and focused, help each other on the pitch, and give everything in every game. We have to believe that we can do it. I think that has been our biggest wall, to believe in ourselves.
But of course it will take the hand of God to help us. Our talent and effort are not enough. We need God!
What is the best advice you would give a kid who decides he wants to become a keeper?
The best advice I can give a kid is to believe in themselves. Try hard until they can’t breath. Also to not give up their dreams because it’s not going their way. To be patient and not be too hard on themselves.
But the greatest advice I can give them is to put God first in their lives. Soccer is just a sport, and God gave you the talent to bless you. Kids, if you are reading this, don’t try to love your gift or your talent. Love the one that gave it to you!
How exciting is the growth of the league since you’ve been here (ESPN coverage, more teams, etc.)?
I remember the first year I played we only had 12 teams. Now we have grown so much, and that gives us more opportunities. The league is becoming stronger. I’m sure that in a few years, we’ll see some more USL teams moving up to the MLS.
You have a wedding coming up this fall. Congratulations! Does the wedding, or having to try and stop a PK make you more nervous?
I can’t tell you right now until it happens [laughs], but I can tell you it’s been a long journey. Getting married is not easy, but is worth it. But I’m trying to enjoy the process. God has blessed me with a beautiful woman. That’s all that matters!
Is it exciting to see progress being made by the US in opening up relations with your native Cuba?
Yeah, definitely. A lot of thing have changed for good. Even though we’ve seen the progress, for a Cuban that’s living there, it’s not enough. It’s hard to live in Cuba. But I pray the doors will continue to open, and they will breathe freedom very soon!
Which nickname do you prefer, El Gato or Super Cooper?
Ummm.. that’s hard. I don’t mind. They can call me whatever they want. It’s up to them [laughs].
You are without a doubt one of the fan favorites of the club, how much does that mean to you?
It means a lot, especially when I feel that I haven’t done anything to deserve it, but if you ask me I will say that it’s the favor of God over someone so imperfect like me.