The Cooperang

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 | View Comments
-Jason Davis

After two and half years in Europe, Kenny Cooper is back in MLS as a member of the Portland Timbers. The Timbers get a proven MLS striker and something of a name; Cooper gets a chance to play regularly and return to the form that attracted so much European attention in the first place.

Unsuccessful European years have a relativistic quality: they seem much longer than they actually are. It's wasn't that long ago that Cooper one of MLS's best strikers, scoring 25 goals over his last 45 games. When the league finally sold him on to 1860 Munich, no one was surprised by his departure. Cooper had pushed for a European return since failing make an impact at Manchester United, and rumor of offers flowed regularly across the Atlantic. FC Dallas, where he landed in 2006, was always meant to be a stepping stone and nothing more.

Germany started well for Kenny, but the magic didn't last. Injuries led to a short stay in Plymouth with ex-Revs coach Paul Mariner (who is back in MLS with TFC) that yielded seven appearances and no goals, and Kenny's European career had stalled in a matter of months. Back with 1860 for the 2010-2011 season, he made just one substitute appearance before this move back to MLS came about.

There's a very good chance that Cooper will thrive again back in the United States. If completely healthy and playing, Cooper has a knack for scoring that rivals any striker in the league. While the Timbers have a few forward options, Cooper is clearly the pick of an inexperienced and unproven bunch. John Spencer will lean on the big Texan, and rightly so.

Should Cooper turn his fortunes around back in MLS, perhaps it means he's more comfortable here, or that the league is weak compared to 2.Bundesliga and the Championship, or just that Kenny is finally himself again after a bad two year run. Maybe Kenny wasn't good enough to cut in Europe, or maybe the Fates conspired against him. It was probably a bit of both.

If we want American talent to play in MLS, Cooper's return is a victory of sorts for everyone, not just the Timbers and their fans. Edson Buddle slipped away to the 2.Bundesliga for free, but at least Kenny Cooper is back. Cooper is still just 26, meaning he should have good years in front of him, and though he returns to American shores at an ebb in his career, that he decided signing with MLS was a better option than bouncing around the Continent trialing and hoping shows he's not too proud for his own good. Kenny might have been desperate to get back to Europe two years ago, but now he probably just wants to play. I'm sure he's heard good things about Portland.

It's unfortunate, but understandable, when young American players (with or without an English father prodding them from behind) view MLS as a place to spend as little time as possible before moving on to supposedly bigger and better things in Europe. Sometimes the attitude pays off, sometimes it proves comical in retrospect. Kenny Cooper might have fallen into the latter category had he not been willing to swallow whatever pride it took to come back. It's not that he's a saint, it's just that this move can't be an easy one to make so soon after he left.

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