Benching hasn't made a difference in his professional approach
by: Christopher Onstott Kenny Cooper (right), veteran Portland Timbers forward, heads a ball away from the marking of Seattle’s Jeff Parke in last week’s 3-2 loss at Jeld-Wen Field.

The scene after each Portland Timbers training session is predictable. Long after other players have gone to the locker room, striker Kenny Cooper remains on the pitch. For 45 minutes, or an hour, time seems to have no relevance for Cooper as he takes shots at an empty goal, practices penalty kicks and runs wind sprints.

'I feel so privileged that I have an opportunity to play the game I love as a job,' he says. 'I have an appreciation for every day I have to lace my boots up and kick that ball around.'

The passion Cooper puts into his post-training workouts has not deteriorated during the past two weeks since he was relegated for the first time to the Timbers bench.

'He comes in every day and really looks after his body,' coach John Spencer says, 'and commits himself to his profession.'

Cooper, who has earned 11 caps and scored five goals with the U.S. national team, was groomed since birth to carry himself as a professional. Cooper's father, Kenny Cooper Sr., played goalkeeper for the Blackburn Rovers of the English Premier League and the NASL Dallas Tornado. He also coached for more than 15 years with the Major Indoor Soccer League's Baltimore Blast and Baltimore Spirit.

'I had a unique opportunity to grow up around some of his players and former teammates,' Cooper says. 'They've helped instill in me a sense of appreciation for being able to be a professional.'

The Timbers' Cooper grew up in Dallas, a city known more for its American football than its soccer. Although the 6-3, 210-pounder looks as if he could have been a tight end, soccer was always his calling.

'Youth soccer in Texas is huge,' he says. 'I grew up playing in the classic league in North Dallas, and you've got some great teams there. It was a lot of fun.'

After finishing high school, Cooper was committed to play for Southern Methodist University. That summer, though, he had the opportunity to train with the EPL's Manchester United. The club liked Cooper enough to sign him to a contract.

'I'm not sure there's a better place to start your professional career,' Cooper says. 'It was a wonderful opportunity to be around some of the best players in the world, and players with amazing character and class.'

Cooper played with Man U's under-19 side and the reserve club in 2004-05.

He returned to his hometown to begin his MLS career with FC Dallas. Over four seasons, Cooper was phenomenal, scoring 40 goals in 90 matches. In 2008, he scored 18 goals and was named to the MLS All-Star team and the MLS Best XI.

'It was a really special time in my career and in my life,' he says.

In the middle of the 2009 season, Cooper transferred to 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga 2, Germany's second division. Cooper battled injuries in Germany but still managed to score three goals in 15 matches.

In January 2011, Cooper became the Timbers' most-notable offseason acquisition. He and fiancée Molly moved to Portland. They have been dating for more than five years and plan to marry in the offseason.

'It's fantastic to have her support and her company, and we have a lot of fun with each other,' Cooper says. 'We love Portland. It's an amazing place.'

Inconsistent season

Cooper's time with the Timbers has been up-and-down. He scored the club's first MLS goal in the season opener against the Colorado Rapids and had three goals in the first seven matches. Since then, he has been on a 10-match scoreless drought. There was also an on-field spat between Cooper, Spencer and Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury in the May 29 D.C. United game.

You could count on two hands how many times this season Cooper - who leads the team with 35 shots -has appeared to score a goal, only to be whistled offside.

After the June 25 match with FC Dallas, Spencer decided the struggling striker needed time away from the starting lineup to figure out his game.

'In any job of life, it doesn't matter whether it's professional sports, if you ain't doing the job then you're going to get replaced,' Spencer says. 'We all want Kenny to succeed. Everybody here does.'

The Timbers (5-9-3, 18 points) are on a seven-match winless streak as they go into Saturday's 5:30 p.m. (PDT) road game against the Chicago Fire.

Jewsbury says that getting Cooper back on track will be critical to the club's success in the second half of the 34-game season.

'He's going to find his way,' Jewsbury says. 'He's going to score some goals, and they're going to be big goals for us to help us throughout the year.'

Cooper will continue to work tirelessly.

'I desire to be a great player,' he says. 'I want to win championships.'

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