The past few weeks U.S. soccer fans have bemoaned the loss of national team players like Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley, players who, while not top-notch international players, are U.S. nationals whose presence gave MLS some respectability internationally. However, while we on this site and others were complaining about the losses, we have not had a chance to celebrate a major pick-up for the American league. Former FC Dallas forward Kenny Cooper is leaving Bundesliga 2 and signing with the Portland Timbers.
For newcomers to MLS, Cooper was named a 2008 Best XI and finished second in the Golden Boot race that year, notching 18 goals (fourteen of which either tied a game or gave FC Dallas a lead). Cooper is a second generation American soccer player and was in the Manchester United youth development system until he was released to pursue his MLS career in 2006. After three years in Dallas he went overseas to Munich 1860 for two years and scored three goals in fifteen matches.
The Kenny Cooper story is also an important one for prospective U.S. internationals. Once considered a replacement to Brian McBride at forward for the U.S. men’s national team, he scored the game-winning goal in a 2009 CONCACAF match against Panama and has ten caps overall, scoring four goals. However, his last call-up was in 2009 and he has not played under Bob Bradley since he moved to Europe, due mostly to injuries and distance from MLS.
Personally, a move to MLS looks to be a chance to reinvigorate his career in the place where he had his greatest success. Admittedly, injury plagued his German career but he seems at this point to fit best into MLS. And he could not have landed in a better place – Portland recently draft Darlington Nagbe and also have USSF 2 forwards Eddie Johnson and Bright Dike, so they need an experienced scorer. The acquisition bolsters their attack if Cooper can find his FC Dallas form, as well as his health. Also, MLS in this case is reversing the trend – bringing a talented American national in the prime of his career back to the domestic league, instead of exporting him. From a USMNT perspective, he is fortunate to play a position of desperate need for Bradley’s team, but if he wants to compete for a roster spot he will have to not only compete with World Cup experienced Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, and Robbie Findley but hold off up-and-comers like Juan Agudelo.
But what do you think? Can Kenny Cooper replicate or come close to his 2008 season? Does he still have a place on the USMNT? And did he make the right move coming back to MLS?