HARRISON, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe joked after his side’s 4-1 win over Toronto FC on Saturday that he could have scored the two goals Kenny Cooper netted in the victory.
But he did not, nor has any other forward not named Thierry Henry in recent months, and that may be reason enough to keep pairing Cooper with Henry for the remainder of the year.
Together the two Red Bulls forwards have combined for 30 goals this season, an eye-opening number that accounts for more than 50 percent of New York’s offensive output in 2012. Saturday night was the latest piece of evidence that the tandem is the best one New York can deploy up top, as they combined for three goals and four assists in a game the Red Bulls needed to win.
“If those two start getting going again, start that partnership back up like it was in the beginning of the season, I think that’s going to be a very, very dangerous combination for us,” midfielder Dax McCarty told reporters after the game.
McCarty was not the only Red Bulls player to express that sentiment after the game. Several players agreed that Henry’s ability to create and Cooper’s positioning and nose for goal make for a deadly duo, one that has shown many times this season just how dangerous they can be when things are clicking.
“I think that guy has eyes on the side of his head, in the back of his head,” Cooper said when asked about the partnership. “It might not matter where you are, his vision and execution of pass is just world class. I’m not sure how he was able to find me out there and I think he’s assisted on 98 percent of the goals I’ve had this year, so I have to give him a huge thanks.”
Henry’s playmaking ability might be the main reason for a lot of the goals the two have combined on, but Cooper’s awareness to pick out the right spots to run into should not go unnoticed. After all, the American forward has the second-most goals in MLS this season with 16 behind only the red-hot Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes.
“When Kenny is on the field, Kenny puts himself in good positions to score goals,” McCarty said. “That’s why Kenny has scored as many goals as he has had all year."
Yes, Cooper is a streaky striker who has been ice cold for much of the last two months. But fellow forward Sébastien Le Toux has also struggled to find the back of the net, leaving Backe with a decision to make as to who works best with Henry.
Cooper may have made that decision easy for Backe on Saturday night, popping up in the right spots at the right times to further make the case that he should be the Red Bulls forward starting next to Henry for the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs.
“Every now and then I’ll try and have a go myself,” Henry said. “But if I see a guy in a better position than I am in, I’ll try to pass it.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.