By JOSE M. ROMERO
Much of Kenny Cooper's soccer career, from the U.S. to Europe, has been defined by potential and promise that was deflated by injury.
But the big striker, still young at 26, had one very memorable season in MLS in 2008. He scored 18 goals and played in all 30 regular-season games for FC Dallas, winning Comeback Player of the Year, Best XI and All-Star honors.
Cooper was transferred to Germany's 1860 Munich in mid-season 2009, but didn't finish out his three-year contract and by the end of last year, his time in Germany had run out. The expansion Portland Timbers were quick to sign Cooper, and he returned to MLS in January of this year.
The Timbers hope Cooper makes the impact and splash for which they signed him. Though he wasn't ultimately named team captain, Cooper wore the armband during preseason training in Arizona, and he feels he has something to prove.
"I'm definitely hungry to improve and to do well," Cooper said. "I think I'm in a great place, in a city that loves the game so much. I'm excited to play for (Timbers coach) John Spencer, who has a lot of great experience in the league and also as a player… it's a great group with great character."
Cooper will bring a wealth of experience and a presence up front; he'll be counted on a great deal for scoring right away, as the Timbers have lost forward Bright Dike for what could be the entire season with a torn Achilles. Attacking midfielder Darlington Nagbe is also coming off of a sports hernia and is only now running lightly.
"I started my pro career out of high school and I do feel like I've had a lot of great experiences," Cooper said. "At the same time I do feel like I'm young at 26 and I hope that my best years are ahead of me. I'm so happy to be here in Portland, to be in a city where the game is so well-embraced and where the team is so well-supported."
Portland figures to have a bigger and more raucous following than Cooper saw in Dallas, but he followed FCD's run to the MLS Cup final last season from afar.
"I was definitely really happy for them, really happy for (Coach) Schellas (Hyndman)," Cooper said. "He's a great coach and a great person… I'm really happy for my former teammates that they had that great success last year."
Cooper enjoyed the chance to play in Dallas, where he spent much of his youth. He's glad that he has been able to perform in front of family and friends in Texas and also live the life of the foreigner in another country but says Portland is home for him now. He's already taken in the views of Mt. Hood and tried a few restaurants.
"Just a great opportunity to come to a team that has incredible support," Cooper said. "I crave to be in an environment where you feel like the game is important and people really love it."