In September, Kenny Cooper scored two goals in a 4-1 thrashing of Toronto FC.
It was one of those games where the box score told one story, and the actual game told another. Without seeing a minute of the game, Cooper put together a nice game. He, along with strike partner Thierry Henry and Markus Holgersson, lead a comeback after going down 1-0. Cooper netted two and the Red Bulls come away with three points on their way to the playoffs.
The game itself was a different story. Henry put in one of his most dominant MLS performances yet. The Reds clamped down on the Red Bulls' superstar, which created space for Cooper. Henry, draped in two or three defenders showed his superior vision and skill, finding Cooper wide open for two tap-ins.
If you only saw that game and heard the way people are talking about Cooper in the wake of trade talks and recent acquisitions, you'd imagine that's how every game was: The greatest-of-his-generation nominee Henry attracting defenders like a magnet, opening space for his strike partner, Cooper, a Manchester United castoff and likely MLS lifer.
Just like the "castoff" dig isn't much in the way of a dig -- not every player signed by Manchester United gets to star at Old Trafford -- Cooper didn't benefit nearly as much from Henry as people seem to think. More than anything else, the Red Bulls probably benefited from Cooper's finishing ability. Of Cooper's 18 goals -- good enough for second in the league -- 10 of his goals did not involve Henry directly in anyway.
- Cooper netted his first Henry-free goal against the Colorado Rapids, tapping in a Roy Miller feed.
- Against the Columbus Crew he slotted home a deflected Dane Richards shot.
- During Henry's absence, Cooper scored three goals against the Houston Dynamo, the Montreal Impact and the Philadelphia Union.
- Against Chivas USA, Brandon Barklage played a through ball to Richards, who fed Cooper in front.
- Connor Lade put the ball on Cooper's head in the Red Bulls' home fixture against the Union.
- In the three-goal comeback against the Portland Timbers, Cooper scored off a Jan Gunnar Solli cross.
- His two goals in the season finale in Philadelphia, Cooper scored on a penalty Tim Cahill drew. His second came off a well-weighted pass from Dax McCarty.
His other eight involved Henry in some way, either via a penalty Henry had a hand in drawing or directly off Henry's foot. Though, for a guy who lead the team with 12 assists, it's not surprising Henry created as much for Cooper as he did.
Detractors still say Henry drew the heat so Cooper cound score. But if Cooper can't score without Henry, how did Cooper manage to net 48 goals in five years without the Frenchman at his side? And how come Sebastien Le Toux only scored one goal in the 878 minutes he spent on the field for the Red Bulls?
Plain and simple, Cooper is a finisher. He's not the fastest, he doesn't use his 6'4" frame to his advantage as much as he should, and he doesn't create. The man puts the ball in the back of the net, and he's one of the league's best in that category.
Keeping him, then, is an economic issue. Even with the allocation money acquired for Le Toux that could bring Cooper's salary down to a more manageable level, that's still a lot of money for any player, and that's the rub: Is Cooper's finishing ability worth, reportedly, $500,000 (less some allocation money)?
If it is, you keep him, and find a way to work Fabian Espindola into the line-up somehow. Or use him as trade bait.
If it's not, Cooper will almost certainly fetch something useful on the trade market. It just comes down to what the Andy Roxburgh/Gerard Houllier brain trust want.