ChampionsGate, Florida – Kenny Cooper had just concluded a tough training session with the New York Red Bulls on a hot morning in central Florida. He was tired and ready to rest before the afternoon session, huddled up in a jacket after spending some time in a much-needed ice bath.
He was shivering cold from the ice bath as the temperature approached the mid-80s.
His interview was just completed and Cooper was already a few hundred yards towards the Omni Orlando Resort where the team was staying when he made a U-Turn and sprinted back. He forgot to say something in his interview before.
It was a memory from September 20, 2014, following the Red Bulls 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders. Cooper was with Seattle then, returning to Red Bull Arena for the first time since he played for New York in 2012, a season where he scored 18 goals. He was traded away that offseason, a salary cap casualty.
Cooper is back again, now on trial with the Red Bulls as a free agent.
“A big reason is the fans, I can’t get over it,” Cooper told Metro. “After that game, [former Red Bulls midfielder] Tim Cahill dragged me out of the tunnel to go see the fans. Their reception was one of the best moments of my career.”
Cooper details a reception from the fans, in particular the supporters who comprise the South Ward, moments that produce goosebumps even today.
Now trying out for the Red Bulls, Cooper’s inclusion with the team is an intriguing one. At 31 years old, he certainly has plenty in the tank to help the team. He’s a veteran with plenty of experience in England and Germany and 10 appearances with the United States national team.
But injuries slowed him down last year, meaning that he is without a team. If healthy, he can add something.
So this offseason, it was Cooper reaching out to Jesse Marsch, the reigning MLS Coach of the Year, to see if there was an opportunity with a team that finished the season with the league’s best record. In training during the Red Bulls preseason, it is obvious he still has some class.
His movement off the ball is good and he’s tough to knock off the ball. He’s confident in the dribble and still has a blistering shot.
“It is really impressive what is going on here. Really happy to be down here now and hopefully something works out so that I can continue here,” Cooper said. “I have a lot of really good friendships within the team and knowing them and seeing the culture that is here, I feel like it’s a good fit for me so, yea, obviously being a free agent it is a unique opportunity. No team holds your rights. This is a place I’d love to come back to.”
As for a role, Cooper in his conversations with Marsch said he could be a target forward or playing off a high striker, perhaps even out wide – “I’d be comfortable with wherever.”
There is a bit of unfinished business for Cooper, who missed a penalty kick in the 2012 playoffs that doomed the Red Bulls to an exit against D.C. United. Cooper took that miss hard and personally.
Should he make the team, it’d be an opportunity for him to chase an MLS Cup title that has eluded this franchise over the past two decades.
“The culture that I see here, the people at the club, the great friendships, the family in the area, a lot of reasons. I’m really attracted to Red Bull. Obviously the club has done really well the last couple of years – two Supporters Shields. It’s been great to have a couple of opportunities to get in and experience that side of it,” Cooper said.
“It would be incredible to be a part of a first championship here. That’s also a huge draw for me. I’d love to be a part it.”