The New York Red Bulls made a huge splash on draft day with a brand new big man up top.
The Red Bulls swapped their first pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and allocation money on Thursday to Portland for US international Kenny Cooper, the hulking striker the Timbers trumpeted as the face of their franchise in their expansion MLS season in 2011.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson showed his apprecation for Cooper via Twitter on Thursday.
I want to thank Kenny for being a first class person and professional.I wish him the best #rctid— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) January 12, 2012
Cooper, 27, scored eight goals and added two assists in 34 appearances for the Timbers last season after returning from a career in Europe hampered by injuries. Portland scooped up the one-time MLS All-Star when he returned to the league last January, thrilled to have a player who leveraged 40 goals scored over four seasons with FC Dallas into a shot with German side 1860 Munich midway through the 2009 season.
But not all was rosy during Cooper’s stay in Portland, as rumors that the club was shopping him around surfaced and his production tapered off after scoring the club’s first-ever MLS goal and three total in the first seven games of the season. He was relegated to the bench for five consecutive games in July and struggled to find the back of the net until September, when he broke out for four goals in the team’s last seven games.
Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said parting ways with Cooper was done with several factors in mind.
First, Wilkinson said the front office is very happy with the forwards in place, Jorge Perlaza, Eddie Johnson, Bright Dike and recently signed young Designated Player Jose Adolfo Valencia and Home Grown player Brent Richards.
Also, Wilkinson said he’s not done addressing the position.
“We felt we could move Kenny to the benefit of the club and potentially look for a big signing in that position,” Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com following Thursday’s SuperDraft. “We will be on the search for a player that will be a benefit to us and the way that we play.”
Perlaza, a 27-year-old Colombian, was third on the Timbers last season with six goals. Johnson started two games in place of Cooper, but missed the last part of the season after suffering two concussions.
Valencia, 19, is regarded as one of Colombia’s top young talents.
Richards registered 26 goals and 12 assists in 37 games over three seasons with the Timbers U-23s in United Soccer League’s Premier Development League.
“We were able to move Kenny to the benefit of both organizations, New York and Portland,” Wilkinson said. “Kenny is a tremendous professional, a great person and a good player. Just the style in which he played didn’t benefit us as a team.”
Wilkinson said he also expects to sign an international defender in the coming days. The Timbers back line was rocked last week with the news that David Horst, who was recently signed to a contract extension, will be out five to seven months after having hip surgery.
The Cooper move certainly provides at least some salary cap relief for the Timbers, and the Red Bulls land a proven striker who has scored 48 goals in 124 career regular season games. Cooper now joins a stable of forwards already considered one of the best in the league, with the strike pairing of Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers and US international phenom Juan Agudelo.
Agudelo, however, is expected to miss a chunk of the 2012 season while playing with the US Olympic team, and Henry will turn 35 years old in August. Rodgers, who broke out with nine goals and three assists in 2011, turned 30 years old earlier this month.
WATCH: Cooper curls it in against Vancouver