February 5, 2013
Some thoughts about Cooper, Espindola
By Michael Lewis
Only one player in MLS scored more goals than Kenny Cooper in 2012.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
It's always sad to see a good player traded, especially a productive one who is also a great guy.
In fact, two recent deals come to mind:
On Jan. 4, the Red Bulls dispatched midfielder Joel Lindpere to the Chicago Fire.
On Monday, New York sent striker Kenny Cooper to his hometown club, FC Dallas, for allocation money.
The team said there were salary cap implications in trading away a man who scored 18 goals, the second most in the league last season and the second most by a Red Bull in a Major League Soccer season.
There were other factors as well in dealing the 28-year striker to Dallas.
Team captain and fellow striker Thierry Henry was never a fan of Cooper as he and Backe wanted to him to play more of a target man. Cooper could be a target player some of the time, but when the trigger was pulled on his trade from the Portland Timbers last year, everyone in the league knew what type of player Cooper was: a tall striker (6-3, 210 lbs.) who could run well with and without the ball.
You might be able to modify a players' style a bit, but it is quite difficult to change a players' personality so late in his career, especially when he has been so productive playing one way.
And, 18 goals certainly isn't something to sneeze at.
As it turns out, Cooper did not start or end the 2012 on the right foot.
He started on the bench as former coach Hans Backe opted to start Juan Agudelo alongside Henry. He worked and earned his way into the lineup with a couple of goals as a substitute.
His partnership with Henry turned out to be a lethal one-two punch before Henry suffered an injury that shelved him for several weeks.
We all remember one of Cooper's final kicks, a saved penalty kick in the Eastern Conference playoff elimination by D.C. United at Red Bull Arena.
After the game, he did not speak to the media, sitting in stunned silence in the locker room (in full disclosure, I don't know if I would have been in the mood to talk to the media after such a devastating occurrence and result).
Regardless, it did not deserve to happen to Cooper, one of the nicest guys, if not the nicest guy, in the league.
The Red Bulls wound up shopping him around for several weeks and found a trading partner in FC Dallas.
It was probably the best move possible for Cooper, as he returns to his hometown.
Cooper's parting puts the spotlight a lot more on forward Fabian Espindola, who came over in a trade from Real Salt Lake in December.
Espindola is a much different player than Cooper, given his size (5-9, 160 lbs.), movement and skills.
To expect Espindola to duplicate Cooper's production would be unfair. Espindola never had been a big goal-scorer for RSL, having connected 35 times in 125 appearances. His best seasons were in 2011 (10 goals, three assists in 27 games) and last year (nine goals, seven assists in 30 matches).
But then again you never know. Trades can give a player a boost, whether it is playing for a new coach, under a new system, with a new partner or in a new environment.
The big question is where will those goes come from? Henry? Espindola? Juninho? Lloyd Sam? A mid-season acquisition?
If there is one thing that we have learned about the Red Bulls, it's that parting with their leading scorer does not always end well.
It has happened twice before with fan favorites Giovanni Savarese and Juan Pablo Angel.
The New York/New Jersey MetroStars traded Savarese, now the New York Cosmos coach, to the New England Revolution prior to the 1999 season. At the time he had led the Red Bulls in scoring in their first three seasons and had accrued 41 goals. Savarese came back to haunt the MetroStars, scoring in a New England win over NY/NJ.
That mark of 41 goals stood until Angel struck for 58 in four seasons, including that club-record 19 in less than a full season in 2007. Angel, who showed signs of age in his final season in 2010, essentially was pushed out the door with not much gratitude from the team‘s hierarchy, not exactly the proper way to treat such a classy person, high-scoring striker and fan favorite. Angel, selected by the LA Galaxy in the re-entry draft and who wound up with Chivas USA, did not provide any heroics against his former team (Angel, who has signed with Atletico Nacional in his native Colombia. never complained about the lack of respect).
Cooper will return to Red Bull Arena when FC Dallas comes to Harrison, N.J. on Sept. 22. Knowing what type of man he is, Cooper most likely will play down his role and talk up his team.
By then, we should have a better idea if his and Espindola's deals were worth it. And then there should be plenty more to talk about.