Watching the Red Bulls pick apart Toronto’s defense Saturday, I got the feeling that something clicked within Kenny Cooper.
The Red Bulls striker has always struggled to find his true game. Talented and blessed with good feet to go with above-average size, he has always wanted to play further away from goal than everyone thinks he should. The result: the struggle to find that perfect groove means that he never has found his “true game,” the way Will Smith’s character in The Legend of Bagger Vance talked about golfers finding their “true swing.”
Whether Cooper will ever find it … who knows? He’s 27 years old. And the guy has built a pretty solid career as it is; so perhaps he should stick with his hybrid self at this point.
For one night, he found something. Playing alongside esteemed strike partner Thierry Henry in the Red Bulls 4-4-2, he found a formula that works wonderfully for this team. He built a Saturday night performance around the simplest of tenets:
“Find Thierry Henry immediately. Get him the ball.”
That’s it. Because if Cooper can work those channels, collect possession and then bring his fabulous French teammate into the play earlier rather than later (or rather than “not at all,” something that tends to happen too often with the Red Bulls), he’ll get the ball back! And probably in a better spot than before.
That’s how it worked Saturday as Cooper benefitted repeatedly from Henry passes or services. Cooper scored twice in the 4-1 win.
Everyone is buzzing about Henry’s night (one suh-weet goal to go with those three assists). I certainly did. But Henry can’t do it all himself. And there will most certainly be tougher matches; this one does deserve to be filtered through the knowledge that hard-trying Toronto remains a poor, poor team at the moment.
But if Cooper can keep it up, the Red Bulls are a far more dangerous threat to emerge from the East in the coming playoffs.