Countdown to First Kick: 8 Cooper's fresh start

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign. 

8 – Goals scored by Kenny Cooper for Portland in 2011

When Portland made a splash last January ahead of their inaugural MLS season by bringing Kenny Cooper back to MLS, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. By most accounts, the Timbers had gone out and signed themselves a proven goalscorer.

After all, this was the same guy who had scored 18 goals in 2008 and was entering the prime of his career. And although Cooper was coming off two uneventful and injury-prone years in Europe, the general consensus was that the he was still more than capable of terrorizing MLS defenses.

My what a difference a year makes.

In a matter of months, admittedly unproductive ones, Cooper went from marquee player to trade bait during Portland’s inaugural MLS season, leading to a trade that surprised very few league observers.

The Timbers were looking to shed salary – a move that belied their eventual move for Designated Player Kris Boyd – and the Red Bulls sensed an opportunity to bolster their well-stocked (but injury-prone and internationally obligated) group of strikers.

READ: Timbers ship Cooper to Red Bulls for 2013 draft pick

Cooper’s golazo against Vancouver

Cooper was shipped out of Portland for New York’s first pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, a trade that gave Red Bulls manager Hans Backe yet another weapon alongside Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers and Juan Agudelo for a price that was more than palatable for a player with double-digit goal potential.

Despite his struggles, Cooper still led the Timbers in scoring in 2011 despite a five-game spell on the bench. On the surface, his eight goals for the Timbers looked like an acceptable number, if nowhere close to the production those in the Rose City expected after the hulking striker scored 25 goals in his final 45 MLS matches before heading to 1860 Munich.

Under further review, though, the 2011 season was not a kind one for the former FC Dallas star. After averaging a goal every 187 minutes during his first go-around in MLS, that number dropped to one every 320 minutes in Portland – a direct result of suffering through a 14-game scoreless streak.

Still, there is no telling what the 27-year-old can accomplish in New York, where he’ll have much more support in the attacking third (see Henry, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards and Rafa Márquez) and a new, if unforgiving, environment in which to rediscover his form.

Clearly, Cooper still clearly has plenty of quality, even if things haven’t fallen his way over the past year or so. After a dormant summer, he came back alive at the end of the season in Portland, scoring three goals in their final six games, a run that included a stunning half-volley against Vancouver that was named Goal of the Week.

Get to know Kenny Cooper

He’s fit right in with New York during preseason as well. While Agudelo attended to US Olympic team duties and Rodgers works to resolve visa issues that have prevented him from returning to the country, Cooper seems to have begun to rediscover himself.

READ: Henry, Cooper full of mutual praise after win over Galaxy

Including his deft, first-time finish against LA on Wednesday, Cooper has scored three goals in preseason action with Backe’s men. Now, the question is whether or not that will carry over to the regular season.

If it does – and assuming Rodgers is even allowed back into the country – the Red Bulls may have the best strike force in MLS. If it doesn’t, Cooper may find himself in the same position he was in this offseason, attempting to resurrect his career once again.

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WATCH: Solli sees Cooper as key addition