CHESTER, Pa. – Kenny Cooper has enjoyed the type of dream year that few could have predicted when he joined the New York Red Bulls in January, and he made sure to finish the regular season in emphatic fashion.
Cooper ended what has been a remarkable season for him this past weekend by scoring twice in the club’s emphatic 3-0 road win over rivals Philadelphia Union, a result that secured the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference for New York. Cooper again demonstrated his knack for finding good positions and finishing in front of goal, abilities that have impressed teammates and seen him quietly finish as the league’s second-leading scorer this season with 18 goals.
“He’s an ultimate pro,” Tim Cahill told reporters after the game. “He’s one of the players who always puts their body on the line and he’s constantly first one in, last one to leave. But the good thing is, even when he’s not playing, he’s the perfect professional.
“But you see it now he gets his goal because he works hard. He plays on the lines, he makes some good runs and as you see today, if we feed him then he will score.”
Scoring against the Union came easily for Cooper this season. The 28-year-old’s first-half penalty kick and second-half strike this past Saturday gave him five goals in three matches against Philadelphia, but he attributes that productivity, and the outstanding campaign that saw him match his career-high in goals scored, to playing alongside players with plenty of quality.
“As a striker, sometimes the shots you take are so high up the field and the goals I scored against Philly were literally just yards out from the goal, so I have to credit my teammates for amazing service,” said Cooper. “There’s so many talented guys around me, as a forward, it’s amazing to feel so much confidence in the people around you.
“When you play with someone like Thierry Henry, who’s incredible and he’s assisted on so many of my goals this year, and I’ve enjoyed this year playing with so many talented players.”
For all the Red Bulls forward’s success this year, Cooper remains a work in progress. He still struggles at times to link up with teammates and keep possession, and Henry was quick to point that out on Saturday.
“As a center forward, sometimes you also have to keep the ball better up front,” said Henry when asked about his running mate. “It’s not only scoring goals. You’ve got to keep the ball better sometimes up front. You’ve got to pass the ball also to your teammates, that’s also important. But 18 goals, we need that and we’re going to need more of his goals and more.”
Head coach Hans Backe also was measured in praising Cooper after the two-goal performance at PPL Park, saying the big man is only deadly when he has teammates feeding him the ball.
“He’s a player that needs good surroundings,” said Backe. “He needs players who can set him up for finishing. Now it’s a penalty and I would say I was surprised when he scored the second one. It looked like, I would say, a mistake from the goalie. Normally, you can’t score from that angle.
“But still he’s there and he’s up to 18 or something like that, but he needs good players around him to set him up.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.