Kenny Cooper

Cooper dealt to New York in draft day deal

The well-paid striker struggled to make good on his promise
Jan. 11, 2012 / By Mike Donovan

Less than one year after it began, Kenny Cooper’s stint with the Portland Timbers came to an end Thursday, as he was traded to the New York Red Bulls for allocation money and a first round pick in the 2013 draft. Cooper’s name will live in the Timbers record books much longer than his 360-day career with the club.

When Cooper was introduced as a Timber last February, head coach John Spencer said he was “one of the top young American players in the game today,” and that “he's a massive asset to this football club.” Yet his career in Portland was one that had a few highs, some lows, and a middling inconsistency that left Timbers fans yearning for more production from the 6-foot-3 former American International.

Cooper, who along with Troy Perkins had the highest salary of any Timber, started his Timbers career with a bang when he scored the first goal for the MLS Timbers in their 3-1 opening day loss to the Colorado Rapids. His 30-yard free kick rocket seemed to bode well for the future, however, it would be the only time Cooper would score a free kick goal for Portland.

The major turning point in Cooper’s stay in the Rose City happened May 29, when he yelled at coach Spencer, after the coach tried to replace him as penalty kick taker with captain Jack Jewsbury. Spencer immediately pulled the hulking striker off the pitch for the final 21 minutes of the match.

Following the match, Cooper was remorseful while teammates and coaches vowed that the incident was behind them. But Cooper struggled mightily on the field and had seemed to have lost his way. He went the next 10 games without a goal and lost his starting spot.

Throughout his summer slump, coaches praised his work ethic and form in practice. Practice form does not make fans nor ownership content, however, goals from their prized striker do. Trade rumors swirled and fans began to jeer him when he was brought into matches.

Eventually, Cooper regained some of his lost mojo. He found himself back as a starter for the LA Galaxy game after Eddie Johnson sustained a concussion during pregame warmups. He played a key role in Jorge Perlaza’s goal in the 3-0 victory over the eventual MLS Cup champs.

The following match, he ended his drought with a goal during the club’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. By the time the season ended, Cooper was back in form with four goals in the club’s final seven matches. In fact, he finished the Timbers first MLS campaign as their leading scorer.

It's fitting that despite leading his team in goals, Cooper will always be remembered as someone who didn’t quite live up to hype. Seemingly everything about him in 2011 was a dichotomy.

He looked like one of the most intimidating players in the league, but most of the time he played passively. He was hyped as a goal-scoring attacker, but seemed to prefer to be with the ball at his feet on the wings away from the goalmouth. He was the only Timber to play every MLS game, but is more remembered for getting benched.

In a time when many athletes are perceived to incessantly want the spotlight on them, Cooper went the other way.  He was always one to credit coaches and his teammates, but never to hype up himself. He didn’t quite fit the role of the big-time, in-your-face, aggressive goal scorer.

Now, he's headed to New York.

It makes sense that Cooper was shipped out of town on the same day as the MLS draft occurred. The spotlight around the league will be shining on many young and confident future stars waiting to make an impact.

No matter what happens in the future, Cooper will always have his name first in the Timbers MLS goal register. Not bad for the most enigmatic player of the Timbers inaugural season.

 

 

 

 

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