UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Kenny Cooper will be hard pressed to find a better time to prove his worth to the New York Red Bulls.
With Juan Agudelo leaving the team for the next several weeks to take part in Olympic qualifying with the US U-23 team, and Luke Rodgers’ visa situation still in limbo, Cooper is poised to start a string of games next to Thierry Henry after beginning his tenure with the Red Bulls on the bench in their season-opening loss to FC Dallas.
“Kenny has played most of the games in the preseason, so it was a quite tough decision to put him on the bench for this game,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com after Monday’s regeneration session. “Now, with Agudelo for the Olympics, of course Kenny will be in.”
Having come off the bench and scored New York’s only goal in the 2-1 loss to Dallas on Sunday, Cooper is looking to build on his solid debut.
“I want to make a good impression any time I’m out there on the field, whether it’s a game or training,” Cooper said. “I’m definitely hungry to play and be out there. My goal is to work hard for the team and make positive contributions, so hopefully I can do that.”
Cooper’s next chance to do that will come this Saturday when the Red Bulls travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on a Real Salt Lake side coming off a big road win against the defending champion LA Galaxy.
Backe thinks Cooper will bring a different dimension to New York’s attack, and that could come in handy considering the Red Bulls mustered little offensive threat the waning minutes of the game against FC Dallas.
“He’s more of a striker that runs the channels, quite mobile,” Backe said. “He can come short but he is not a typical target player. With his size, he has decent pace, too, so it can be a little bit of a different game with him starting because I think he can stretch the back fours a little bit more.”
Cooper did just that and more against FC Dallas. On the goal-scoring play, he got on the end of a pass played in over the top by Henry and delicately chipped a shot over an onrushing Kevin Hartman.
That play may have been somewhat surprising to some given Cooper’s relative unfamiliarity with the team (he was traded to the Red Bulls from the Portland Timbers during January’s MLS SuperDraft), but the 27-year-old forward credits the preseason for helping him quickly develop chemistry with his new teammates.
“I think it was great to come in for the preseason and have a good, solid month with the guys,” Cooper said. “We spent a lot of time away and I think anytime you’re around the team 24 hours a day and eating meals together, you feel like you have a better understanding with the guys on and off the field.”
That was apparent on Sunday, and New York will be hoping it shows again this coming weekend.