Ahead of facing his former team, Sounders FC’s Kenny Cooper spent time this week recalling fond memories and expressing plans to pay back old fans for their support.
Wait. Wasn’t that last week?
Well, yes. The veteran forward has a few ex-teams. One is Portland, where Seattle just played to an unforgettable 4-4 tie, and another is Western Conference-leading FC Dallas, which hosts the Sounders at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Are we playing New York next?” joked coach Sigi Schmid, referencing the fourth team Cooper has played for the past four MLS seasons.
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This trip will be particularly special, though, as Dallas is Cooper’s hometown and the most recent of the former teams.
It’s where the family settled once his father, a goalkeeper in the old North American Soccer League, retired. It’s where he starred in high school en route to signing with Manchester United as a teenager (turning down a scholarship offer from nearby Southern Methodist University). It’s where his MLS career began in 2006 upon his return stateside following a couple years on loan from the English Premier League powerhouse.
For Cooper, this trip was immediately circled on the calendar once the schedule came out.
“Not a lot of players get the chance to (play for their hometown team), having parents and nieces and nephews in the stands,” Cooper said. “I’ve been really fortunate, and I really cherish that time that I was there.”
Full of nostalgic feelings, surely Cooper was disappointed on some level that Dallas looked to shop him in the offseason, even after a less-than-productive year’s end. The team elected to decline its contract option for 2014 — Cooper made $342,500 last season — and the sides couldn’t agree to a new deal.
Seattle was a willing trade partner in a move that sent Cooper’s rights and allocation money to the Sounders in exchange for midfielder Adam Moffat.
When asked if there are any hard feelings regarding his departure, Cooper’s answer included a long pause, which made it hard to tell for sure if he was biting his tongue or looking for the right words. The answer reflected the latter: “I’m definitely happy where I am, so no bad feelings toward them.”
Still, it seems odd that one of the top scorers in MLS history — Cooper’s 74 league goals rank 18th all-time — hasn’t played two consecutive years with a team since 2008-09. The 29-year-old has led his team in scoring in three of his past four full seasons in the league.
Perhaps one constant that has hurt Cooper’s standing has been his salary, which averaged more than $300,000 (not far from the designated player threshold) the past three years.
“I think for Kenny, each situation has been a little bit different as to why you move on — I’m sure there’s a story to each one — but when he became available to us in the trade offer, we felt it was a good positive change for us,” Schmid said.
And Cooper, who has repaid that faith with goals in back-to-back weeks, hopes the trend of offseason packing ends here.
“I would love to be in Seattle for a long time,” he said upon arrival.
• Sounders FC defender Djimi Traore is eligible to return Saturday following a one-game suspension for a red card.
• Seattle’s other Texas native, Clint Dempsey of Nacogdoches, said family members will be making the three-hour drive to the game and have asked for more than 40 tickets. Dempsey played club soccer growing up in Dallas.