Jay Bell speaks with Kenny Cooper upon his return from Munich
Once upon a time Kenny Cooper was on a career path unlike any American player before him.
Young Kenny Cooper left America for Manchester United and later returned to star for his hometown team, FC Dallas. Ever a fringe player for the national team, Cooper departed from MLS in search of new challenges in Germany. Cooper began playing for TSV 1860 Munich in torrid form. He eventually cooled off before a string of injuries limited him to very little action over the last 16 months.
Now Cooper is on a path akin to another American forward, Charlie Davies. Both have returned to America to try to resurrect their club careers after injuries have taken them out of the game for the last 18 months. He joins one of the most ambitious teams in America and a rivalry unlike any other in MLS.
TSG was lucky to be able to talk with Kenny about his injuries, Portland, Dallas and getting back with the US national team right before the season.
Here’s the account:
TSG: What was your mindset when you transferred to Munich?
Kenny Cooper (KC): Well, at the time, I thought it was a great opportunity for me. Munich is a fantastic city and I was at a club that has an amazing history, a lot of tradition and a lot of fans. It was a great experience to be a part of 1860.
TSG: How did you feel about the string of injuries you encountered when you were there?
KC: I know injuries are part of the game. Obviously I would have liked to have played more than I did when I was over there, but I accept injuries as part of the game. Hopefully they are behind me now.
TSG: Do you feel like you pressed yourself too hard when you went on loan to Plymouth?
KC: I don’t know if I ever looked at it that way. At the time I think I may have felt it was the best thing for me to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t play as much as I would have liked to. Life goes on and I am here in Portland now and really happy to be here.
TSG: Do you think you learned anything about yourself or your game going to Europe?
KC: I said before that I know what it is like to play in your hometown and have a comfort zone with friends and family around, just be familiar with a lot of things around you. After moving to Germany, I also know what it is like to be a foreigner and to not know the main language.
I hope these different experiences, playing abroad and playing at home, I hope that they will help to make me a better player and a better person. Hopefully now I can relate better to all of my teammates in the future whether they are Portland natives or whether they are from out of the country and can’t speak English. Hopefully after living in Germany and playing in my hometown, I hope that I can better relate to all of my teammates.
TSG: What all went into the decision to return to MLS?
KC: Well, I spent 4 years in the league in my hometown, Dallas. I really enjoyed it. Its a great league, there is a lot of great quality in it and its a league that has grown and grown. Its a great opportunity to be a part of the Portland Timbers and their inaugural MLS season. I think it is a unique opportunity to be a part of a team’s first season in the league, but it is also a team that has history behind it and a lot of fans.
Its a really exciting time for the team and there is a real love for the game here in the city. Portland has embraced the game really well and they have embraced the team really well. As a player, it is really exciting to be a part of that.
TSG: What did coach Spencer and the coaching staff tell you when you arrived?
KC: John made me feel like he was excited to have me here and thats obviously a great feeling for a player, personally speaking. Thats great to feel like you’re wanted. I’m really excited to play for him and his staff, its a great staff. In John we have a coach that has a lot of experience in the league and has been a winner in this league. He knows what it takes to win and has a lot of great experience in the league. He has a lot of experience with the players and I am certainly looking forward to working under him.
TSG: What have they told you about the playing style that they would like to implement in Portland?
KC: It has been a great preseason for the team against some strong teams. We’re not giving up very many goals. We have a lot of great attacking talent in the team also. So hopefully we can finish this preseason off strong. We have another game against San Jose this weekend and the season is just around the corner. Like I’ve said before, we’ve not let in a lot of goals and have had clean sheets. Hopefully when the season comes around we can have more clean sheets and score a lot of goals as a team as well.
TSG: How does it feel as the MLS season gets closer and closer?
KC: Its really exciting. Like I said, its right around the corner. Yeah, we open up against the defending MLS Cup champions; definitely looking forward to that game, but we still have a little bit of time in the preseason. Hopefully we can finish this preseason off strong and be ready to go in about a week.
TSG: As you said, you start off with the reigning MLS Cup Champions. How do you feel the team will respond to a challenge like that right off of the bat?
KC: Oh, yeah. Its a great way to open up the season against the defending champions in their home. Certainly I am looking forward to that game. We are on the road for the first couple of games before we open up here in Portland. Its a great game to have as your first game in the league and first game of the season.
TSG: Does it feel a little bit different being a part of Portland, an expansion franchise, than it ever did while you were with Dallas?
KC: I’m not sure if I have ever looked at it that way, but its a team that is in its first season in the league, but it is also a franchise that has been around for a long time and has a lot of great history. It is not like this team has just come out of nowhere. There is a lot of history and a lot of tradition. Its fun to be a part of that.
There is a real buzz and excitement for the team and for the game in this city. As a player, it is a lot of fun to be a part of that.
TSG: Who are some players you look forward to working with during the season?
KC: Everyone, really. I have really enjoyed my team here with the team so far. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time with each other. We had a 10 day trip in Arizona and it is nice to have that opportunity to get to know your teammates on and off the field. That was certainly a great trip.
I really like the guys. Its a really good group, a hard working group and hopefully we’ll have success this season.
TSG: Are you back to full fitness?
KC: I feel great. I got 90 minutes this past weekend against Seattle. It was definitely nice to get that 90 minutes under my belt. Its also been great to be a part of the team’s preseason before the season gets going. I feel great at the moment.
TSG: With a couple of injuries that you had in MLS and with the string of injuries you had in Germany, a lot of fans think that you may be almost injury-prone at this point. Do you feel like your body is fine for the season?
KC: At the moment I feel great. I’m happy that I have the 90 minutes under my belt. Hopefully I can stay healthy for the rest of this preseason and throughout the season. Hopefully, injuries are behind me now.
TSG: Hope so too, man.
KC: Thanks a lot.
TSG: You are already a part of the Cascadia rivalry, but who do you think will be some of the top teams in the Western Conference this season?
KC: I’m not sure. Certainly, I hope that we will be one of the top teams. This past weekend was a great opportunity to get a taste of the Pacific Northwest rivalry. Its really great that ourselves, Vancouver and Seattle are all in the league now. There is a real passion for the game in the Pacific Northwest and it is exciting to have all of the teams together in the league to have the opportunity to face each other in league play. It was a lot of fun to get a taste of the rivalry and the great fan support this past weekend.
TSG: You’ve had your experience with the rivalry up there now. Have you ever had another experience like it before?
KC: Obviously, in Texas you have the rivalry between the two teams down there, Houston and Dallas. As I said before, there is such a passion for the game up here in the Pacific Northwest. I think the league has obviously seen that with the fan support that Seattle has had.
Its really cool that there are three teams now from the area that are all in the league. I think its a very exciting time for this area. Hopefully the teams will really enjoy coming out to play in these games in the Pacific Northwest and hopefully there will be a great atmosphere for all of those games.
TSG: How will you feel playing against your old team, FC Dallas?
KC: I’m not sure. I had a wonderful time there; the unique opportunity to get to play for your hometown team. I have a ton of respect for Schellas and his staff there. I really enjoyed my time working under them and I was really happy to see them have great success there last year. I’m not sure how it will feel to play against them.
TSG: Are you looking forward to anything specific this season?
KC: Gosh, I feel like there may be a ton of things I am looking forward to, like our home opener and the first game against Colorado. I’m thrilled to be back in the league. I’m really, really happy to be here in Portland. There are so many things I am looking forward to this year.
TSG: In your last season in MLS, your last full season, you scored 18 goals. Do you feel like that may be your standard this year?
KC: I don’t know. I’m definitely hungry to do well. I’m hungry for our team to do well. I hope I have a good season. I hope our team has a good season. I’m not sure exactly how to elaborate on that more.
TSG: Are you worried about perceptions that if you only score, maybe 8 goals or so, that you’re not meeting some expectations?
KC: At the end of the day, I feel like I can only do my best. I hope that I can contribute a lot to this team this year and I hope that we will have a lot of success.
TSG: Do you keep the Gold Cup this summer in the back of your mind?
KC: My focus is to try and be a great professional every day. I hope that will translate into good performances for my club and then I hope that if I am doing well for my club that I will have some more national team opportunities in the future. I’m focused on trying to get better every day and try to be a good professional every day.
TSG: I know you said you look to the national team and you hope you can get time with them again. What do you think about the lack of US strikers who have played in Europe? Do you think that puts your name around the top of the list?
KC: Do I think that puts me at the top of the list because, why?
TSG: Because you have had experience in Europe and also if you start off this season well.
KC: Whew, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Like I said before, my focus is to try to do the right things every day. I hope that translates into good performances for my club and hope that will translate into opportunities with the national team. I’m definitely hungry for more of those. They have been highlights of my career, playing for my country.
I feel I am still young; I’m 26. I think my best years are still ahead of me and I hope that there is a lot more national team opportunities ahead of me.
TSG: From the outside looking in, a lot of people have asked if there is fricition between you and Bob Bradley. Do you have any thoughts on that?
KC: (laughs) No, no, no. I have a ton of respect for Bob. I think that he has done an amazing job with the national team. I hope that in the future I can be part of his plans.
TSG: We like to end on a lighter note. What are some things you miss about living in Dallas?
KC: My family and friends, being around them. I am really close with my family. I have some great friends back home there and I definitely miss my time around them.
TSG:What do you miss about being in Germany?
KC: It was a really beautiful city. I’ll miss the city. I’ll miss some friends I’ve made there. I feel really fortunate that I feel like I’ve made some friends that will be lifelong friends. I’ll miss being able to see them.
TSG: What are some things you enjoy about being in Portland?
KC: Being a part of a team that is so well embraced in the city. I think we may have sold 12,000 season tickets. When you’re in the city and you see the billboards and talk to people, there is a real excitement for the team and the game here. It is a lot of fun to be a part of that. It is a great city; a lot of great restaurants. I heard great things about Portland before I came out and it has been nice to experience this first hand, all of the great things about Portland.
TSG: I do want to thank you for talking with us today.
KC: My pleasure. My pleasure.
TSG: Good luck with the season and stay healthy. We like watching you play.
KC: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it a lot. Thanks