- Posted: 6:44 PM, April 12, 2012
Both Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry and coach Hans Backe tipped Kenny Cooper for a U.S. National Team call-up, among MLS’ most prolific scorers and pleasant surprises. And Henry points to Cooper’s professionalism as a big reason why, starting the year on the bench but choosing to succeed rather than sulk.
Acquired in a draft-day deal, Cooper’s six tallies trail only Henry in the Golden Boot standings, and his 1.58 goals/90 minutes are tops in the entire league among multi-goal scorers. That kind of production promoted Backe to say on Tuesday that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann should call Cooper up, and today Henry agreed.
“Kenny is doing a great job,’’ said Henry. “I saw (Backe) talking about him going to the national team. It’s going to be a hell of a task; I think Clint Dempsey is way up there and untouchable, doing a great job in the Premier League. But Kenny can have a good chance for the next (spots). I’m not the boss; I’m not giving advice to anybody here. I’m just saying the guy deserves it (with) what he’s been doing.’’
Henry and Cooper have quickly formed a lethal partnership, with the Red Bulls’ 13 goals over their past three games tied for the third-most in MLS history.
“It’s almost unreal the way they’re scoring and setting each other up; using each other in combinations. They start to or already understand each other very well,’’ said Backe. “I can’t expect they will score like this forever.’’
They didn’t score like this from the start of the season, mainly because Backe didn’t start Cooper. Despite the big striker being the Red Bulls’ leading scorer in the preseason, he found himself planted on the bench in the first two regular-season games at Real Salt Lake and his former team FC Dallas.
“You’ve got to give him credit; he played all the friendly games, scoring goals, and suddenly he’s on the bench at the beginning of the season. You have to give him credit, because he could’ve said “How come? I’ve been scoring goals, everything was nice.” Even before I arrived he was scoring…then suddenly we go to Dallas and he’s on the bench. He could’ve said “What is this?” No; he kept on working.
“He came on against Dallas, he came on well against Salt Lake…(He) controlled the ball well and has been scoring goals. You have to give him a lot of credit…for him to not drop his head when he was doing really well, and to go on the bench and show AGAIN to the boss that he should be playing, and doing it most of the time, that’s when you have to give him credit for his mentality and his behavior.’’
For his part, the self-effacing Cooper – who is the son of a former pro – said his mindset wasn’t going to change, whether he was in the Starting XI or not even on the substitutes’ bench.
“My mentality is try to be a good professional each and every day, no matter what the situation is: Starting or not starting, if the results are going our way or not,’’ said Cooper. “My mentality is to try to keep my head on straight, work hard, put in an honest day’s work. It’s real important to me. I hope if I do that, it’ll translate to good performances for my team and positive contributions out there for the guys.’’
As if Cooper wouldn’t have had enough pressure, he was succeeding Luke Rodgers in the starting lineup. The English striker had become a fan favorite, one of the more popular players in team history; just picture Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez replacing Don Mattingly, and you can imagine the shoes Cooper was trying to fill.
“We all know it’s not easy to come after Luke, a crowd favorite,’’ said Henry. “People were shouting his name and having stuff written about him – and rightly so, don’t get me wrong – but he had to go through that to, and he didn’t put his head down. So you have to give him credit for that.’’
Ironically, Cooper rode the bench at the start of the season behind Juan Agudelo, stepped into the lineup when the teenager left to compete with the U.S. Under-23 National Team.
Agudelo is still several weeks away from returning from a knee injury incurred during the U.S.’ failed bid in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, and the two could not only compete for a starting job with the Red Bulls, but a showcase with which to impress Klinsmann for a call-up to the senior national team.
“I’m hungry to get more national team opportunities,’’ said Cooper, who has four goals in ten caps with the national team, and is looking for more. “Some of the highlights of my career have been having that honor of representing my country, and I’m hungry for more of those opportunities.
“But at the same time my focus is Red Bulls and trying to do the right things on a daily basis. It’s my hope by being a good pro somehow that translates into good performances for my club. If that happens, hopefully that’ll translate we into more national team opportunities down the line.’’