Portland Timbers Postmortem: The Kenny Cooper Trade

Jeff Zelevansky

In our penultimate postmortem, we look at the move that started this whole 2012 debacle -- the surprise transfer of Kenny Cooper to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for allocation money, a 2013 first round draft pick, and other considerations.

Kenny Cooper was one of the biggest signings of the Portland Timbers' first year. An erstwhile MLS star during his productive years with FC Dallas, Cooper's career fell flat in Germany. The Timbers front office thought a return to the United States might revive his career.

They were right ... eventually.

Cooper's year with the Timbers was middling at best, ending the season the team's top scorer, but enduring a 14-match scoreless drought punctuated by an embarrassing scene at home against DC United. Beyond his scoring inconsistencies, Cooper also had a maddening habit of falling down at the slightest contact from a defender, as well as a propensity to run himself out of position, hanging out on the wings instead of in the penalty area.

In addition, friction was rumored to exist between the striker and Coach John Spencer, and in the end the team decided to deal him.

Timbers fans are all too familiar with what happened next. In his new environment with the New York Red Bulls, Cooper matched his MLS career high of 18 goals. Just as frustrating to Timbers fans, he has shown none of the maddening tendencies (aside from the stutter step he takes before PKs) that defined his 2011 season. Some of the credit surely must fall on strike partner Thierry Henry, but Cooper also made key improvements to his game in order to reach his full potential.

Clearly the deal worked well for Cooper and the Red Bulls. How well do you think it worked for the Timbers?

Will Conwell: D

I have waffled back and forth on this trade a lot over the course of the season. Kenny Cooper was one of my favorite players in MLS before his ill-advised adventures abroad, so when the Timbers brought him on board I was downright excited. However, as the Timbers first year went on it became apparent that he would not be a good fit for the Timbers as they were constructed. I still believed in him as a striker and, at the time of his trade, had not heard about any friction with John Spencer so trading away the team's leading scorer seemed unthinkable.

With the arrival of Trencito and later Kris Boyd, Cooper's departure made more sense, but in the end it comes down to an old proverb: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A year later and the Timbers ended up with one new striker out injured the whole year and another with questionable output at best. Meanwhile, Kenny Cooper is once again his team's leading scorer.

Ryan Gates: D-

Trading Kenny Cooper after only one year was a mistake. Cooper had been away from first team football for well over a year and in the previous three years had quite a few injuries and was still getting back into form. The second year will always be better than the first with a players who have not gotten significant playing time like Cooper, and it showed when he bounced back this year with the Red Bulls.

The other reason Cooper should have not been traded is due to the fact that he never received the service he needed to be successful in Portland. John Spencer's utilization of Cooper also did not allow him to be successful. Portland should have at least given him one more year.

Stacey Neve: D-

Trading Kenny Cooper after one year was premature. Sure, he didn't score as many goals as we wanted, but he did score more than anyone else on the team and he was finding his form at the end of the season. Cooper, more than anyone else, was the player who kept us in the playoff hunt in 2011, scoring the lone Timbers goals in a handful of 1-1 draws and 1-0 wins. Even last fall, I suspected his 2012 would be a lot brighter.

Yet somehow he became a popular scapegoat for the Timbers struggles in what was not actually a terribly bad inaugural season. The Timbers had high expectations, and they were too impatient to give Cooper a fair chance to live up to them. As a result the Timbers and Timbers fans got to watch him have a stellar season with a different team.

Geoff Gibson: F

Easily the worst trade the Portland Timbers have ever done during their short reign in MLS so far, I can't see how this deal could be given anything except an "F" for a grade. Let's put it into perspective a little bit though, shall we?

First, Kenny Cooper is not a bad striker as many thought he was. He didn't lose his edge. He didn't become a "has been." In fact he was simply regaining his form after going two years in Germany without much playing time due to injuries. Despite all that, however, he still managed to be the highest goal scorer for 2011 and still, to this day, is the highest scorer the Timbers have had in MLS.

Second, based on his performance this year, the Timbers basically traded Cooper for peanuts. Cooper was let go to New York for a first round SuperDraft pick and some allocation money. For a normal player? Yeah, pretty good trade. For a player who scores 18 in a single season? Ouch.

Finally, the Timbers traded him presumably because they had gone out and acquired Kris Boyd as a new star forward. Which is all well and good because Boyd, on paper, is a better player, but they're also very similar players with similar styles. Cooper and Boyd poach their goals. This means that the Timbers upgraded for a player they should have known wasn't going to produce because the midfield largely remained the same. Cooper relies on a creative element to feed him balls.

The entire trade smacked of not only ignorance at what the current squad looked like, but also a bit of arrogance at believing the Timbers were a better team than Kenny Cooper. If there was a "Trade of the Year" award for MLS, the New York Red Bulls would easily be deemed the winner and Portland the loser.

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