Odisnel Cooper, The Cat
I know as sportswriters we are not supposed to pick favorites, but sometimes you can't help yourself. As I began my role here at Dynamo Theory covering their USL affiliate, the Charleston Battery, one player continued to grab my attention - Odisnel Cooper. The Cuban Defector. The Legally Blind Goalkeeper. The Cat. Widely known by his nickname, El Gato, former Cuban National Team goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper has been a proud member of the Battery for a few seasons now. Shortly after his arrival, the team discovered he was legally blind. Charleston assisted him in getting contacts to improve his vision on the pitch and he's responded by becoming an elite goalkeeper in the USL. Now with his eyes taken care of, he focused in on a Q&A with me:
Where did the nickname El Gato come from?
El Gato: First of all, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit more about myself. *laughs* Well... That nickname came from the Pan-American games in Guadalajara [Mexico], in 2011. We [Cuba] shared that group of four with Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica. We know the level of those teams. But God was with us and we tied 0-0 with Brazil and lost 1-0 and 1-0 with Argentina and Costa Rica, respectively.
It's not a very good result for people who don't know about Cuba and in that tournament I made some saves and I saved a lot of dangerous balls, and because of my reflexes and crazy dives, the commentators in Cuba started calling me "El Gato."
How do you feel your experience with the national team helped you progress as a player?
El Gato:It was such a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity of being a part of the national team when I was only 18 years old, and it helped me with my confidence a lot.
Do you pay special attention to other Cuban athletes in pro sports? i.e Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Erislandy Lara, etc.
El Gato: Yes I do. I often watch videos and I know they're doing well.
What do you miss most about Cuba?
El Gato: I miss my family so much and, of course I miss the food! *laughs*
What's your favorite American food?
El Gato: Hmmm, well, honestly I don't have an American favorite meal because I cook almost every day at home Cuban food *laughs* I can't eat without rice. That's my addiction.
What's your favorite thing about Charleston?
El Gato: I love everything about Charleston! I love the people, I love the club, the fans. But what I love the most is my church. I thank God that he placed me in this beautiful city, the Holy City.
How different is it for you now that you are able to wear contacts during matches?
El Gato: Well, the difference is notable. I didn't know how much better I could see the ball wearing contact lenses. But I'm very thankful to the club and to the coach for being aware of my need.
What goalkeeper did you look up to growing up?
El Gato: San Iker Casillas. He's not that tall, like me, and he's still one of the best goalies in the world. He inspires me to keep pushing to my dreams.
What is your go-to pregame ritual? (song, food, superstition, etc)
El Gato: As a Christian, I pray not only game days, but I pray every day to my God, the only God! And even when I don't have a good game or we lose I thank Him only for giving me the opportunity to do what I like the most and for keeping my life. Also I thank him for my teammates and my coach and I ask him for victory! EVERY GAME IS A VICTORY FOR ME.
The Previous Week's Action
1-1 Draw against Coastal Carolina University
(Goal scored by Ricky Garbanzo)
2-0 Win Over Jacksonville Armada
( Goals scored by Heviel Cordoves and Jarad van Schaik-PK)
4-0 Win Over Old Dominion University
(Goals scored by Justin Portillo-PK, Cordoves, Garbanzo, Zach Prince)
The Coming Attractions
Thursday at Clemson University 4pm
Saturday vs Carolina Railhawks of the NASL at Blackbaud Stadium 2pm
The Weekly Anticipation
Stay tuned for next Wednesday's edition as I'll recap the results from this week's friendlies and move one week closer to the official start of the season!