UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Despite scoring a tema-high 18 goals this season, Kenny Cooper was surprisingly left off the Red Bulls’ starting lineup for their 1-1 Eastern Conference Semifinals draw with D.C. United on Saturday. And that may again be the case when the two teams square off at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday for the decisive second leg (8 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Head coach Hans Backe said following Monday’s training session that he has not decided on whether to start Cooper or Sébastien Le Toux, who was largely ineffective in place of Cooper in the first leg, though he did reiterate why the Frenchman got the start over the weekend
“As I said we had been struggling on the road, so we need a pacey guy up front, if it’s possible to get in behind and stretch oppositions’ defense,” Backe told reporters. “… We’ve been a different team when we play at home and when we play on the road, so we need to do something different when we’re on the road.”
Backe and Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry had been critical of Cooper following their 3-0 regular-season finale win over the Philadelphia Union, a game in which Cooper scored twice. Both Backe and Henry said Cooper needed to improve in certain aspects of his game, and the Red Bulls forward has heeded the advice.
“Obviously I have a ton of respect for Titi and Hans, our coaching staff and our senior players,” said Cooper. “We have just a wealth of experience and knowledge in those guys and their thoughts, their opinions, when they express with me, I take on board.
“As a player, I want to improve and get better every day, so that’s my mentality and I’ll look to do that.”
Still, Cooper is hoping he can get on the field on Wednesday to have a chance of making the kind of impact that was the norm during the regular season.
“I’m definitely itching to get out there and hungry to play,” said Cooper. “Whether I play a minute or 90, I’ll look to give my best for the team.”
Cahill won't train, should play Wednesday
While Backe may not be sure if he will start Cooper on Wednesday, the Red Bulls head coach was more certain that midfielder Tim Cahill would be good to go against D.C. United. Cahill missed all of last week’s training sessions as he was dealing with a calf injury, but he still started and went the distance in Saturday’s draw.
“He will have treatment now, Monday, Tuesday,” said Backe. “I don’t expect him to be [in training] tomorrow, I don’t think it’s necessary. Just give him the necessary treatment and hopefully he can play Wednesday, [but] I think so. He played 90 and he responded quite well.”